Maragos Breaks Down the Opener

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is on the verge of making the San Francisco 49ers final roster. He also joins Badger Nation for a weekly look at Wisconsin football.

MADISON - If anybody knows a thing or two about the University of Wisconsin football team, it would be Chris Maragos. He also would know a thing or two about defying the odds.

Growing up attending Badgers games with his parent's season tickets, Maragos got a chance to play and star for Wisconsin for two seasons after transferring from Western Michigan. Although he came as a wide receiver, Maragos was converted to free safety and started 19 games.

As a senior team captain, Maragos led UW in interceptions (four), finished tied for second in passes defended (six), finished seventh in tackles (49), made two key late-game defensive plays to help UW earn two non-conference victories and scored a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt at Ohio State.

Earning consensus Honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and the UW Tom Wiesner Award (given to a Wisconsin-born student-athlete), Maragos is proving people wrong once again. After not being among the 255 players selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, Maragos is on the verge of making the final roster with the San Francisco 49ers.

Now, he's bringing his insights to Badger Nation, using his knowledge of the Badgers players and opponents to answer the hot topics of the week and break down games. Time permitting, his column will run every Monday exclusively for Badger Nation subscribers.

From your perspective, what's the hardest thing about the opener on the college level? The NFL has preseason games to work out the kinks but if you come out slow in college, you run the risk of hurting some goals you have for the end of the season. What's the big problem you remember a team going through?

Maragos: I think the really biggest thing you have to overcome is that you've been in fall camp for about a month just constantly repeating plays. Now, it's time to put a whole game together. In a college atmosphere, you do a lot of situations in practice: red zone, third down, two-minute drill, etc. The first game is the real first time you put all those situations together. You've really got to roll with it. In a game, you've got to move naturally from third down to punt. You've got to go and put all the pieces together. Getting adjusted to that is one of the hardest things.

Wisconsin's non-conference schedule traditionally doesn't really strike fear into people, so was it ever hard getting fired up for a team like Wofford or UNLV compared to playing a Michigan or Ohio State?

Maragos: The biggest thing is that is sets the tone for Big Ten play. It's what gives you the stepping stone to be ready for all the things that are coming. I'll tell you what, I played in a smaller conference (Mid-American Conference) and we got jacked up as a player for those guys for the chance to knock off the big guys. All those guys have got a chip on their shoulder because they didn't get recruited by the bigger schools. Me, I was always ready for those games because if you took them lightly, they have the ability to beat you. That's something you have to be careful about and watch. After going through a training camp for a month though, you are ready to play a game, show everybody what you've been working for all offseason and hit somebody else for a change. There's a lot of motivation there in those non-conference games.

You didn't make the last trip to Las Vegas in 2007 but there were a lot of humid games and practices you went through. Is too much made out of the heat or is it something players need to be wary of?

Maragos: It's a different kind of air. With me being out here on the West Coast, it'll be hot and something they'll need to adjust to, but they are football players. You play in warm conditions and obviously, there will be a lot of difficult things to overcome in the game and that will just be one of them. Guys play in hot weather throughout camp and Coach Ben Herbert does a good job with them in the offseason. They'll be ready to roll come game time at night without the sun sweltering on them.

What do you think the biggest strength on this year's team is and the one area that the team needs to improve upon?

Maragos: One of the biggest strengths that they have is that they are coaches extremely hard and they play extremely hard. I think that's a big strength. I know those guys personally and they are going to give it everything they got. I think that something that needs to be said because that's a huge strength, especially at the collegiate level. They've got the talent to back it up, which is why it's so exciting to think about.

Something they can improve on or build off of is to overcome that adversity. Last season, a lot of those guys were younger and now they have been thrust into leadership roles. This year, they are going to face adversity and they have to come out on top over that.

Who is the player in the secondary you think has the biggest upside heading into this season?

Maragos: It's going to be exciting to see how the cornerbacks come out and play, just because they were so young last year and they are getting older and maturing. For me, just watching Aaron Henry and his development is exciting. Getting the chance to spend some time with him, and I know he spent some time with Jim (Leonhard), it'll be interesting to watch him take a step forward and control things. Jay Valai is going to be Jay Valai and do the great things he does, but I am excited to see Henry's growth and how he adjusts from cornerback to safety.

What is your prediction for the season opener against UNLV?

Maragos: Obviously UNLV has a great coaching staff and they are going to come out ready to play for its home opener, but I think the Badgers have a lot high-spirited guys that play hard and have a lot of talent. I am expecting a Badgers win, no doubt. I'll say Wisconsin 42-10.

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