MADISON — Nothing ever came easy in the collegiate career of former Wisconsin free safety Chris Maragos. So why would the NFL be any different?
After impressing scouts at UW Pro Day in March and earning individual workouts with a few teams, Maragos had hopes of being a late-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Three days, seven rounds and 255 picks later, Maragos never heard his name called.
Within hours of the end of the draft, he received phone calls from a handful of teams, and quickly signed on with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent.
Once the season rolled around and rosters were slimmed down, Maragos found himself on the 49ers practice squad, where he has been for the first five weeks of the season.
After the end of a long day of practice last week, BadgerBlitz.comcaught up with the former Badger. The following is a question and answer with Maragos.
How’s life in the NFL been for the past five months?
Maragos: It’s good. You know, it’s a lot different than college, it’s a whole different dynamic. I think the NFL is a very interesting dynamic of football just with all the different things that come along with it.
It’s an unbelievable game at this level, and the type of athletes out here is extremely competitive. I always try to correlate different things with different experiences in my life, and when you’re a high school senior going in as a freshman at a Division I program, it’s a big jump and you’re like, ‘Wow, there’s all these great players around.’ But as you continue to progress you begin to see how you can have an impact.
When you go from college to the pros, it’s an even bigger jump than from high school to college. You’re around the best athletes in the world, and that’s what you want to be a part of. It’s fun for me to be able to go out there and compete and play alongside so many great players and really just wait for my time to contribute to help this team win.
Do you feel like you’re getting close to making the jump from the practice squad to the 49ers’ active roster?
Maragos: Yeah, I definitely think I’m close. I think it’s a thing that is close and I really feel confident in my ability. I know I can compete and I know I can play at this level. That’s not a question at all. So, I think it’s really just a matter of time before I get an opportunity.
Just like Western Michigan or Wisconsin, anything like that, I’ve just got to be ready to make the most of my opportunity.
What would you say are the best and worst aspects of being an NFL free safety?
Maragos: I think the best thing about the NFL is that it does raise your game and your knowledge of the game to a whole higher level. Physically, I’m a much better player after just being in the NFL for just a few months. I can already see how my game has taken off just because of the level of competition and how you need to raise the level of your game.
Some of the drawbacks and some of the negatives, I think at the University of Wisconsin we had such a fun time. We had a great group of guys that was fun.
And it’s not that we don’t have that in San Francisco, but in college it’s such a different dynamic because there’s money involved in the NFL. Your best friend might be here one day and he’s not here the next day, versus college where you can really develop a lot of relationships.
Guys are older in the NFL, they have families, they have kids, so when practice is done they go home to their families. Whereas in college, guys are hanging out, they’re going out to eat, they’re playing video games together, whatever it is.
As a member of the practice squad, what is your daily routine like?
Maragos: Well let’s see, we come in on Mondays after the game, we’ll come in and lift, and then we’ll have a Bible study that’s optional for guys to attend. After that, then we’ll have a special teams meeting where we go through the film of the game, and then we have a positional meeting where we also go through the film of the game. That usually goes until about 2:30, and then we’re done for that day.
Tuesday’s are our off days, and Wednesday we have a lift in the morning, then special teams meeting and then we go into our position groups meetings. We go through a walk-through, then we have lunch, and then we go from lunch to more meetings. After that we go out to practice and then we usually get a little film in after practice. That’s usually what Wednesday, Thursday and Friday look like.
If it’s a home game, we’ll have a little walk-through on Saturday just to go through last-minute corrections. If it’s an away game, then the team is usually traveling on Saturday. Then of course, Sunday is game day.
What is game day like for you as a inactive member of the team?
Maragos: It’s different, but you know, it’s funny because it really reminds me a lot of a redshirt season. You’re a part of the team as much as anybody, but you’re not contributing at all on the field.
I’ve looked at it just like I did in college before I was getting my opportunities. If I can’t be out there physically on the field helping this team win, then I need to be in practice busting my butt, giving them the best look or doing the best things that I can do to help this team win on Sundays.
That’s just my way of contributing right now, when I get my opportunities, then I’ll be ready to produce on the field.
How has life been off the field, moving from the Midwest to the West Coast?
Maragos: Life’s good, man. It’s phenomenal. The weather out here is unbelievable, it’s great. The area that we’re living in is just a great area to be in. There’s a lot of things that it has to offer. It’s just a blast being out here with my wife, Serah, and just getting an opportunity to be with her and really just enjoy that.
Our training facility and our workout facility is actually down in San Jose, so that’s where we’re living. We actually live about 40 minutes outside of San Francisco. We play our games up there, but our training facility is kind of a ways away.
Everything is going pretty well, though. So, I can’t complain.
MADISON — This is your deal now, take over. Take it on, and go get it.
With those words former Wisconsin free safety Chris Maragos, who was forced out in the final minutes of the Champs Sports Bowl with an injury, handed over the reins to Aaron Henry as he watched from the sideline.
Henry has not looked back since.
“That was it, he went out there, we won the game and ever since then, he’s really taken hold of the position, and he’s really taken ownership of it,” Maragos said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of him.”
When asked who has helped him in the transition from cornerback to free safety, Henry quickly admits he could run off a long list of names.
Among those that have given Henry advice is current teammate and fellow safety, Jay Valai. What did Valai have to say?
“Always be true to yourself, man,” Valai recalled. “Just go out there and play football and don’t overthink. You over think stuff, that’s how you get beat. Big Ten football’s here now, concepts pick up a lot more, teams are going to be better for the most part and you’ve just got to be ready to play.”
Narrowing down the list of names, Henry recognizes the two most influential on his progress at the position.
Fortunately for Henry and the Badgers, those two athletes, Jim Leonhard and Maragos, happen to be playing the position professionally, for the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers, respectively. Though advice from Leonhard was invaluable for Henry, it was Maragos who truly had the greatest influence on the move from corner to safety.
The strong bond between Henry and Maragos led the two to grow even closer as they worked to help each other improve, both physically and mentally.
“You probably can’t see the resemblance, but Chris and I are like brothers,” Henry said. “If anybody’s going to be critical of me, that I can take, it’s him, because we’re like family. He’ll call me up and be like, ‘Aaron, this is something you need to work on. Aaron, when you see so and so coming on a boot, you’ve got to make sure you cut that.’ It was just small things like that to help me fine tune my game.”
For Maragos, the decision to help Henry was a no-brainer based on their already close relationship and the strong work ethic possessed by the current UW free safety. While he was working on earning a position of his own with the 49ers, Maragos passed along whatever he could to help Henry.
In the process, Maragos found himself on the other side of things from where he was just a couple years earlier.
“I know for me, Jimmy made things real clear for me,” Maragos said. “He kind of has that ability to say like, ‘Listen, I’m in it right now, I’m playing these same coverages as you, these are some of the small things that help me out.’
“Now, things that I’ve acquired through playing the position, that’s what I’ve tried to pass on to Aaron and try to be the same help that Jimmy has been to me than I can be to Aaron.”
One of the biggest things Maragos did to help Henry had little to do with the physical nature of the position and everything to do with all the information that comes along with it.
As one of the leaders on defense, Henry had a lot more to learn than as a cornerback.
“I remember talking to Maragos and he was just telling me about how free safety in our defense, it’s like a code you’ve got to crack,” Henry said. “Once you’ve cracked the code, everything is going to be pretty easy. I feel like I’ve cracked that code, so things are starting become a whole lot clearer and smoother.”
“As a safety you have to know so many different things and I think a lot of things can kind of run together,” Maragos added. “But when you get it and when things click, it’s like the code has been broken and you can see how clear everything is, and you can know how to play everything exactly how it should play out.”
So far, the early results would indicate Henry has in fact cracked the code.
Through five games, Henry has already matched his total from a year ago with 18 tackles. His five pass breakups are already a career-high, and his first two career fumble recoveries have come this season. On top of all that, he added his second career touchdown at UNLV.
Not only is Henry making plays, he’s made a name for himself with big hits on opposing receivers. The biggest difference in Henry now compared to when he first made the switch?
“Confidence,” Valai said. “Confidence is everything. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, it’s tough to be out there making plays on the football field because you don’t believe in yourself. I think confidence is probably the biggest thing at any position, and once Aaron’s gained his confidence, he’s been great.”
By Jordan Schelling, Forward Report
Over the last four months, former UW safety Chris Maragos has spent much of his time preparing for this weekend’s 2010 NFL Draft. During that time, Maragos also planned for another part of his future: his wedding and marriage.
Maragos and his wife, Serah, were married April 9, in Racine, Wis. Before the two headed off on a cruise to the Bahamas, Forward Report talked with Serah Maragos, discussing a range of topics, including how the two met and their future together.
Forward Report: How and when did you and Chris first meet?
Serah Maragos: Chris and I met in college at Western Michigan; I lived on the floor above Chris and he lived on the one below. We originally connected on Facebook before school began, and actually ended up meeting just in our dorm building.
FR: What was the connection between you and Chris that led you to begin dating?
SM: Faith was absolutely the main connection between us. That was what was most important to both of us, and for both of us to understand that we were on the same page was big too.
FR: So you were dating Chris then when he decided to transfer from Western Michigan to Wisconsin, how involved were you with that decision at that time?
SM: I’ll never forget the day when Chris quit at Western Michigan. It was kind of like a black cloud was over us and we were just sitting there in my apartment like, “OK, what’s next, God?” We had no idea what was going to happen.
But Chris really just made that decision with the Lord after he thought out what was the best move for him. Once Chris made the decision, I supported him completely.
FR: Did you move with Chris to Madison right away?
SM: I moved to Wisconsin the semester after Chris, and that was a big decision as well. I think the biggest thing for me was that I wanted to be a part of Chris’ football career. That was really important to me because that was such a big part of Chris’ life.
FR: What is it like for you as his girlfriend, and then his fiancée, and now as his wife, to watch Chris play football?
SM: It’s just so much fun to watch Chris play. I have just absolutely loved every minute of Chris’ football career. It’s just such a blessing to share that with Chris. We’ve shared so many memories together that not a lot of people get to share. It’s just such a joy to watch him play.
FR: Before you got married two weeks ago, you and Chris had been engaged since the end of July. What was Chris’ proposal like and how surprised were you by it?
SM: It was just so sweet. Chris did a great job of planning. My family was in town and it was just a wonderful time. It’s funny because when he started, I knew he was going to propose. Chris really isn’t an ultra-romantic kind of guy, so when he started to get kind of romantic I was like, ‘oh, he’s going to propose!’ So it was just such a great, fun time.
It was a surprise, but I definitely knew it was coming at some point.
FR: After getting engaged, what was the entire process of planning the wedding like?
SM: Well, during the fall, we had the football season, so that took up a lot of time and really kept my mind off it. When football was over, we really started planning everything whenever Chris and I had free time together.
But, it was really more about preparing for our marriage together rather than our wedding. So, after the wedding it was like, ‘OK, it’s over, now we can start our life together.’ Our whole focus wasn’t this big ol’ wedding it was on starting this marriage together.
FR: Now that the big day has finally come and passed, what was it like? Did it live up to your expectations?
SM: Oh my gosh, it was amazing. I don’t know how to describe it any other way. It was just such a wonderful day. The Lord blessed every single aspect of our day. It just could not have gone any better. From the ceremony to the reception — the UW band and Bucky actually ended up showing up at our reception, which was really fun.
It was just a wonderful day that we would never want to do over because it went so well.
FR: If you had to pick, is there one moment from the day that really stands out to you as the best one and the one you’ll remember most?
SM: I know a lot of people say this, but the best moment of the entire day was when I started walking down the aisle. Just to see Chris’ face — he was bawling like a little baby — was just such a special moment to see your husband waiting for you.
Also, as a part of our vows, Chris and I washed each other’s feet out of servanthood to each other, just how Jesus served his disciples and washed their feet. So, that was just another really huge thing that I’ll always remember.
FR: Chris was telling me about your first dance, how did that go?
SM: We started it off slow with the Rascal Flatts’ song ‘God Bless the Broken Road’ and then it cut off like it was screwed up or something and everybody was shocked, but then it went into this series of songs that we made up a dance to.
Our thinking behind it was just to make everybody feel welcome and enjoy the reception.
FR: So, now that you’re married, how do you feel about Chris’ future in football and basing what you do in the future on how that goes?
SM: I think you just have to remember that very few people get this opportunity. So I’m just going to be Chris’ wingman for a while and support him through everything that life throws at him.
I think it’s exciting; I’m really excited for Chris and to see what the Lord has in store for him. I think we’re both just ready to see where it takes us.
By Jordan Schelling The Badger Herald
By Jordan Schelling The Badger Herald