WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue fans have been waiting for George Karlaftis to get on the football field since the moment he committed to the Boilermakers in October 2017. Now that that time has arrived, he appears by all accounts to have been worth the wait.
Just talk to Karlaftis' teammates on the defensive line. They're impressed by how physical and fundamentally sound he is for someone who just started playing football in high school. He's so advanced that he has even given some tips to veterans. Defensive end Derrick Barnes, who moved from linebacker in the offseason, said he has gone to Karlaftis for advice on how to use his hands, which is one of the younger player's strengths.
"I ask him every day, 'How do you do this move or that move?'" Barnes said. "It says a lot (that I'm asking a true freshman). George is going to be a great player for us."
Karlaftis, according to his teammates and coaches, is all about football all the time. He spends the majority of his time at the Boilermakers' training facility and is always one of the last ones to leave the practice field. Defensive assistant coach Kevin Wolthausen said Karlaftis treats football like a full-time job, the way NFL players do.
His teammates have also learned that he is extremely intense. Junior defensive lineman Anthony Watts said that the freshman, who was raised in Greece, speaks a different language (likely Greek) when he's rushing the quarterback.
"When he rushes he screams these different languages and it's just kind of hilarious to me," said Watts, who is already good friends with Karlaftis.
That screaming must be a terrifying sound for a quarterback to hear and the Boilermaker quarterbacks heard it plenty at Thursday's practice. Karlaftis was in the backfield again and again and got at least three sacks in 11-on-11 drills, though they were only two-hand touch sacks. Still, he was beating the lineman in front of him regularly and was disruptive on so many plays. On one play, he nearly got his hands on a pass to bat it down, but it barely missed his fingertips and he screamed, "Right between my hands!" loud enough for the media to hear 40 yards away. This kid is going to be good right away.
Karlaftis was a bright spot on the defense today, as was sophomore safety Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton had one four-play stretch in 11-on-11 drills in which he broke up two passes, including one intended for big, talented freshman Milton Wright, and also had a leaping interception, getting his head around on an underthrown ball and pulling it in as he fell backwards. Hamilton didn't play either of the last two years, but he could be a factor in Purdue's secondary this season.
Outside of Karlaftis and Hamilton, it wasn't a banner day for the Purdue defense. The Boilermakers surrendered two plays of 75-plus yards on short passes in live hitting drills, one on a slant over the middle to freshman wideout T.J. Sheffield, who outraced everyone to the end zone, and the other on a bubble screen to redshirt freshman Kory Taylor, who also showed blazing speed to sprint all the way for the score. The plays were well-executed, but poor routes on defense helped turn them into touchdowns (though Taylor and Sheffield are both very impressive).
Maybe the best news of the day came from the performance of Rondale Moore. Moore sat out a practice earlier this week and it was rumored he'd had a minor leg injury of some kind. He insisted he was fine and he showed he mostly is today. He made one 25-yard catch along the sideline and got a foot down, a typically athletic play for the sophomore. After the play, he looked a little ginger going back to the huddle. Later, however, he made another terrific back-shoulder catch and that time he grinned at the defensive back as he jogged back to the line of scrimmage. He probably isn't exactly 100% right now, but any pain he's feeling doesn't appear serious as evidenced by the fact that he practiced today and went full speed.
The offense was certainly the better group today, as is to be expected with a Jeff Brohm team. The defense knows it has some catching up to do, but it plans to be superior to last season's unit.
"The biggest problem last year, and not that this is an excuse, but it was just a lot of young guys," Barnes said. "We've worked toward maturing, just working on the little things as far as, like, technique, learning where we need to be. We've worked on that all offseason, so I feel like we're going to be much better than last year."