August 31, 2009

Long road leads Maragos to captain

MADISON, Wis. - The empty stadium gives senior Chris Maragos ample time to reflect on the road he has followed. It serves as the quiet reminder of a long and rocky path taken before the senior from Racine wound up where he always wanted to be.

"Section B, row 26," Maragos said. "That's where we've had season tickets ever since I've been in kindergarten."

That, one could say, was the start of a journey a decade and a half in the making. And it's one that started Maragos through a high school career at Racine Horlick that did not garner much recruiting attention and will end, at least collegiately, as one of four captains at the University of Wisconsin.

But it was and has never been easy.

Out of high school, Maragos decided walking on at Western Michigan would be his best option to continue his football career. Following a redshirt season in 2005, Maragos, a former Wisconsin All-State selection, finally saw time on the field as a wide receiver for the Broncos.

But, as the saying goes, life likes to throw you a curveball every now and again and Maragos was no exception. With things not headed in the direction he wanted at WMU, Maragos decided to transfer to UW. A place and team he always wanted to play for.

"I can remember coming up to Badger games and just thinking, 'Wow, it would be so neat just to even play here,' he said.

That motivation though, brought Maragos directly back to square one when he decided to leave Kalamazoo and head for Madison. He was back to being a walk-on after spending so much time and effort at Western Michigan to break into the receiver rotation.

On top of that, the UW coaching staff was telling him they wanted to convert him to a defensive back, a position where would be able to utilize his skills in a more efficient manner.

What may sound a bit overwhelming to some considering the whole of the parts, it was just another obstacle for Maragos.

Upon meeting Maragos it is easy to see how that notion wouldn't phase him. He is a man of devout faith and knows he can get through any challenge life throws at him through those beliefs.

So, after sitting out the entire 2007 season per NCAA transfer regulations, Maragos was back on the grind at practice where he manages to do some of his best work. Thus, 2008 brought him a number of opportunities on the field.

First and foremost, Maragos was able to realize his youthful dreams of playing in Badger red as he made appearances in every game, including six starts. His performance on the field, as well as his character and leadership off it, then led to head coach Bret Bielema offering him a full scholarship last spring.

"That's amazing," fellow captain O'Brien Schofield said in regards to Maragos' journey. "We are both men of faith, men of God. And just to see how blessed he was from coming on as walk-ons to playing to earning a scholarship and now he's a captain. He hasn't even been here for five years.

"Guys can look at his lifestyle and look at the way he goes about his business to respect him enough to vote him for a captain spot."

And it's that captain spot that has Maragos higher than life heading into his fifth and final season as a collegiate football player.

"It means everything," Maragos said. "This past spring I was awarded a scholarship, but this means immensely more. Just to have the respect of your teammates for them to vote you captain, this is what truly lasts.

"To have that and have the respect of them is something you can't ask for."

No, but it's something you can work for each and every time you take the field. And many times, actions do indeed speak louder than words. And when you are consistent on a daily basis and hold yourself accountable, people are going to start taking notice.

"You see a guy that's went through the adversity and the struggle that he's went through," UW secondary coach Kerry Cooks said. "Then you get a chance to be around him and see what kind of person he is, how he works, his belief's in God and all those things he displays. You want nothing but the best for him.

"It's hard to root against a guy like that."

True, but for the folks sitting in section B, row 26 this Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium, and for the rest of the 80,000-plus fans, it will be easy. And Maragos has done nothing but earn that.

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