October 16, 2008

Maragos followed long road to first start

MADISON, Wis. - If there ever were a walking, living, breathing definition of the word resilient, it would probably center on junior Chris Maragos. The road to becoming the starting free safety at Wisconsin last Saturday went through two transfers, a division one walk-on role, and relentless will and determination to move up depth charts.

"Obviously when you come here, your work ethic is something that you really want the coaches to see," Maragos said. "I think really, for me, I'm just sticking to my persistence and really just trying to keep working hard everyday."

That is the mindset this Badger player has always encompassed. Near the end of his high school career where he was an all-state selection, Maragos went through his first transfer to a different school, admittedly a tough time for him at that stage of his life.

"We were in the hotel and I was kind of reflecting a little bit," Maragos said in regards to his feelings when he found out he would start last week's game. "I was thinking about high school. I had to transfer schools in high school and that was kind of tough my senior year."

While most high school seniors spend their final year of young adulthood planning the next step of their lives, Maragos was struggling with his future plans. Even while being one of the standouts on the football team and earning several statewide athletic accolades, not many division one schools displayed much interest in the young wide receiver.

"Western Michigan was the only school to give me a division one walk-on spot even," he said following Wednesday night's practice. "From there, I was last on the depth chart. I was 14 out of 14 receivers when I came in there."

That was the point his determination and faith presided over a situation that at the very least, looked bleak.

"I earned my way to the traveling squad as a true freshman (and) ended up redshirting," Maragos said. "I worked my way to a starting role as a redshirt freshman and then things didn't work out there as you guys know."

Following his redshirt freshman season at WMU, his passion to play for his home-state Badgers once again drove him to a familiar road he had already traveled, albeit on the collegiate level. Maragos would once again transfer, this time to UW and the bustling streets of Madison that make it one of the best college towns in America.

Still, the move was anything but easy. UW coaches wanted Maragos to switch from wide receiver and join what at the time was an unproven core of safeties.

"Then to come here, (and) have to sit out again, I was a little fish in a big pond," Maragos said. "I think for me, just the attitude that I really took from it and just looking back to see everything that's transpired through it all, it's phenomenal."

Any Badger fan could see it coming through the early stages of 2008 and even into parts of the 2007 campaign. Inconsistent play at the safety position was one of the haunting aspects of the Badger defense. Shane Carter had started all 13 games a season ago and the first five of 2008 before the move to start Maragos was eventually made.

"What it is with Shane, and the biggest thing is, he's got everything that you want at safety," secondary coach Kerry Cooks said Wednesday night. "He's got the size, he's got the speed, he's smart, he puts in the effort and time. The things that were hurting him right now was just getting those guys down in the open field."

It is not as if the Badger coaches have given up on the longest tenured safety on the UW roster, because they haven't. The move was made with the hopes of generating better, more consistent play through healthy competition.

"The other part about that is it kind of adds a little competition to the fire between Maragos and Shane Carter," Cooks said. "So that way, if you got a guy that's not playing that well, you got another guy that you can rely on and trust enough to put in there knowing that he's got game experience."

So Maragos, after his long journey and solid play on third down and special teams units put him in position, he finally got the nod against Penn State in front of a sold out Camp Randall crowd.

"It means a lot especially growing up here as a hometown kid and coming to Badger games all the time," Maragos said. "It's unbelievable."

While his first start was relatively shaky early on, and the final score was lopsided, the confidence he instilled in his coaches and most importantly himself will always shine through even as this most recent personnel decision is anything but permanent.

"Just knowing that they (coaches) can rely on you and they want to put you in there and they see good things happening, I think that's definitely a confidence boost," Maragos said. "All throughout my career, I've had to battle from the bottom.

"For me, it's great to have that confidence but for me, no matter what situation I'm in, I'm going to keep fighting. That's kind of what I want to do."

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