A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.
Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.
Every Monday, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.
This week, Maragos addresses the rigors of camps, blocking out player distractions and what it takes to get ready to play a season opener.
Badger Nation: Before we get started, we have to talk about Russell Mania being named the starter for your Seahawks in week one. You viewed him from afar and as a fan last year, so what's it like being a teammate of his this year?
Maragos: The cool thing is we've been able to develop a pretty good relationship so far and obviously the Wisconsin connection is really good. The guy is just a pro. He's far beyond his years just in terms of maturity, the knowledge of the game and the way he approaches things. I think that all translates over into how fast he's been able to have success. He doesn't get outside himself. He knows who he is and the process he takes every day to be the best, and he stays true to it. That's why he is so good.
Badger Nation: Do you and him and even John Moffitt talk about what's happening with the Badgers or are you pretty focused on what you guys have to accomplish with your season fast approaching?
Maragos: We have conversations every once in awhile about Madison, the football team, the guys and how good the team is going to be. We do a little updating with each other if we hear something, like about some of the walk-ons getting scholarships. We chatted about that a little bit. We stay in the loop with things the best we can.
Badger Nation: For a junior or a senior going through fall camp for the fourth or fifth, what's the key in that third week as you start approaching game week? Those guys obviously know the system, but what are the things they need to do to stay mentally sharp heading into the next week?
Maragos: That's a really good question. The biggest thing is you've been practicing literally the same stuff over and over and it's really easy to start going through the motions. As you get closer to the opener, you are tired mentally and physically and you are trying to get your legs back. You have to fight the urge to kind of pass through the motions and not take care of the details. I think it's very important after you've been through three hard weeks of practice to really start getting the details down on every little thing so you are ready for the opener.
Badger Nation: What's the hardest thing about the camp: the practices, the meetings, the time you have to spend letting your body recover for the next day or something else?
Maragos: The thing I remember being the toughest part is that it's football 24-7, so everything gets put together. It almost seems like there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel. You are drilling, you are pushing yourself physically, you are competing for positions on offense and defense and special teams, you are mentally exhausted and it's all mashed together. The trick is being able to separate all that. As these guys go through the process after they've been through the program, especially the older guys, is how to separate the things in training camp and have a really good grasp on things.
As a younger guy, everything is running together. You are trying to adjust to the speed of college, the details and the level of athletes. It's very difficult to be able to separate those things. The guy that can do it faster than others obviously excels and can play and handle more.
Badger Nation: What's the hardest thing about preparing for the first game and getting comfortable with the schedule the team is going to have from now until November? The intensity from camp is a lot different than the intensity preparing for a game, correct?
Maragos: Yes, no question. I would probably say that it's really get back into game mode that's the toughest. You are in practice and you have a blitz period where you run all blitzes against the offense for 10 plays. Then you are running a third-down period where every play is a third-down situation. You have a run period where all you are doing is running. You have all these different situations where you are trying to stop these things and then you get into game week and everything changes.
These situations happen one after another and you really have to switch your focus. The defense makes a stop on third down and there's not another third-down play after that. It's the punt return team's turn and you are getting ready to execute that. It's just getting back into the flow of things because it's a lot different than what you have been accustomed to over the last three, four weeks.
Badger Nation: A player's position group is a tight-knit bunch, so what's the reaction when you lose a player from that group either by injury, transfer or something else? UW has had some players leave throughout camp and you got the chance to start when Shane Carter was dismissed from the team. Is the situation addressed or does everybody simply move on?
Maragos: I think as you are in the college and the NFL ranks, specifically college, you start to understand the level of professionalism that you have to have. There is a balance of being good friends with everybody but also competing. I think as an athlete, you have to understand how much is invested to really go through what they do to be an athlete at that level. You have a tremendous amount of respect for that, which is why I think a lot of positions get so close. I think that's why when you see people transfer you have a lot of respect for them and want to see the best situation for that person. That might not be at the school that you are at but as a friend and a competitor, you want to see people have success because you understand what it took to get there.
Badger Nation: When you were a senior, Shelton Johnson was a redshirt freshman. Did you ever look at him and say, ‘He could be a team captain someday?'
Maragos: (laughing) It's crazy. It's almost hard to believe not because I never thought he would be good, but because he was at the very infant stages of his career and he was extremely raw and extremely quiet. He was just trying to figure out how to play quarters coverage. Now to see him flourish, to excel and have a voice in the locker room is amazing to see the development and growth people have in their four or five years. I couldn't be any happier for him and know he has a lot of respect for the other guys on the team. He's a great individual. He works hard, plays hard and is accountable. I think a lot of guys attract to that and you can see that from the beginning.
Maragos: (laughing) Oh man, I hadn't heard about that (laughing). I'm going to have to text him and give him the business.
Badger Nation: What are your thoughts on that because you were a part of some good safety combinations?
Maragos: I'll tell you what, there have been a lot of good players that have come through the position and Shelton and Dez are two guys that are athletic. Southward has really put his skills together and has really developed. Shelton is a smart player and both guys are tough, aggressive and are a really good combo together. As they continue to gel together and play together, it will be fun to watch those two guys work. They're both great players, so it'll be fun to see how that shakes out. Then we can start the debate (laughing).
Badger Nation: The experience in the starting lineup is noticeable with three senior starters, three experience linebackers and depth on the defensive line. Which unit does the strength of this defense lie or do you think it's the whole unit?
Maragos: There are a lot of really good individual players on defense, but I think the collective unit is going to be real strong. I don't see a lot of weakness in a lot of areas. The good thing is the defense has played together for awhile now. They know each other well and I think they'll be cohesive and a well oiled machine. I think it's going to be a great defense, but the heart is at the linebacking corps with those three guys (Ethan Armstrong, Chris Borland and Mike Taylor). They are solid players and they are certainly the engine to the train for sure.
Badger Nation: From what you saw last year, what's the one area of this team that has to improve from a defensive standpoint?
Maragos: I would definitely say the pass rush in general. I think that would be the big thing the team needs. I think you're going to have a lot of experience in the secondary and some really good players. If the pass rush can continue to be a force in the game, I think a lot of things will open up for the back seven. David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly will be very important and the guys at the tackle positions will need to provide some pressure up front to cause some havoc on game day.
Badger Nation: Wisconsin has Northern Iowa in the season opener and the Panthers do a lot of different formations from an offensive standpoint that have given some BCS teams fits in season openers. Is it nice to play a team like that right away that does a lot of different things to get a team locked in and prepare them for what they are going to see down the road?
Maragos: No question and here's why: you love to play a team like that up front because you have all of training camp to prepare for those things that take a lot of time. While you are in fall camp, you can spend a little bit more time compared to midway through the season when you don't have as much time. I think it's really going to give Wisconsin a good base of how to play different offenses throughout the rest of the year. When you get into those game weeks, it'll just be a refresher from the fall.
Badger Nation: You were 10-3 on your predictions last year because, face it, you picked Wisconsin to win every game. Wisconsin hasn't lost a home opener since 1995, so I am guessing you are going to pick the Badgers to start 2012?
Maragos: You got a great running back, a great line, a great defense, tight ends that can make plays and a quarterback that is hungry to prove himself. Wisconsin will be juiced and it will be an easy win for them. I am going to say 35-13.