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 week, 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 what a blowout can do for a team's morale, the role of a strongside linebacker in UW's defense and his memories from Minnesota week.
Badger Nation: Without question, Saturday was Wisconsin's best performance of the season on a year where they had been struggling. In 2008, you were on a UW team that really struggled, but blew out Indiana, 55-20 on the road. You won three straight after that. How big of lift is it when you finally put together a complete game? How does it meld you as a team?
Maragos: I think, especially with this team, that they have been right there all season long. They had the right things in place, but they just had to learn how to gel as a team. Coming together this last game, you can see the potential that they have. They had a lot of people they needed to replace and when you see a team that gels and hits their stride, you can see what they are capable of. I think that's what you saw. Having something like that at this point, especially through the adversity that they've gone through, that's going to pay off at the end. It's really big for the team's morale and they can feel going forward that they can make big plays. There's a lot more expectations on what they can do.
Badger Nation: Does winning a game like that having any more meeting because it came on the road, or does it feel just as good getting a win like that at home?
Maragos: They both feel really good but anytime you can do that on the road is big. To go out there and play in a stadium you aren't use to being in, executing and really getting on the roll, I think it really brings the team closer together. You have to play together on the road and learn how to play together. I think the team is really starting to hit their stride.
Badger Nation: Bret Bielema talked this week about how the strongside linebacker in Wisconsin's base defense does get a chance to make a lot of plays. What does he exactly mean by that and why is that player limited in the amount of tackles he makes?
Maragos: I think a large part is because the strongside linebacker is going to line up to the strength of the formation or where the tight end goes. Usually a lot of teams run the ball that way, so the strongside linebacker is usually going to be the first guy to the play. He's going to have to turn back the ball and box the ball back to the other linebackers, which means you are going to take on the pulling lineman or the fullback to force the ball carrier back to the other linebackers. You are the person that has to be the reliable player, be very good on your run fits and be a strong guy because you are taking on a lot of those blocks and pullers so those other guys can make plays.
Badger Nation: You led into my next question because Bielema and Chris Borland said that Ethan Armstrong is probably the strongest linebacker on the team. How important is it to have your strongest player as your strongside linebacker?
Maragos: It's very important. Even more so than having a strong guy, you need a guy with a tremendous amount of pride. Having played for the Badgers and knowing Ethan Armstrong, he's really out there to prove every week that he belongs, which comes from that walk-on mentality. I remember being a walk-on-turned-scholarship player, I talked to the guys the coaches were recruiting as walk-ons and he was one of them. You can really see that he was a special guy. You can tell that it was important to him. You can tell that he had a lot of heart and character. Those guys really pay off for the Badgers, because they beat out a lot of guys who don't have that on the inside. It's what's in the heart that really counts. For me, I look at him as a type of guy that's going to make sure he's going to do everything he can to help the team and make sure he's in the right spot.
Badger Nation: When the weather is nasty during a football game, does it affect more the physical side of the game or the mental aspect?
Maragos: It definitely has an effect physically, but I think it's more mental. With ball carriers, there is an extra emphasis to be more careful. There's that extra little bit of awareness when they try to get that extra little bit of yards or when a defender tries to reach for the ball. Personally from being in the program, I know how much the coaches emphasize ball security. At one point, Zach Brown, John Clay and all those guys carried a ball around campus. It's really important and they really stress that, good weather or not.
Badger Nation: When you look at Wisconsin's defensive performance against Purdue, what do you like about what you saw and where does the group need to continue to improve?
Maragos: Obviously they did a good job limiting Purdue the way they did. I think Dezmen Southward getting that pick was big, because creating turnovers are huge for a team's morale. I think continuing to eliminate your opponent's explosive plays is really, really crucial for the game. As long as they continue to do those types of things, they are going to be successful, especially if the offense continues to do what they did that game. The way the team is set up with how tough they are on defense, they will really be able to do some damage.
Badger Nation: We all know about the ‘1-0' mentality but when you look at the schedule at the beginning of the season, how high was Minnesota week during the two years you played, especially being an in-state guy?
Maragos: That's big time right there, even more so now because we've won the axe so many years, it's only of those things. I remember when I was there how we wanted to win it for the seniors and we're going to send them out right. There's definitely the importance for the younger guys doing it for the seniors, really talking about that and stressing it. I think there is almost that extra build up that we've won the axe so many times, you don't want to be the group that loses it. I think that's been something to emphasize, as well.
Badger Nation: What do you remember from the 2009 game your senior year. Minnesota was pumped because it was the first game in its new stadium and they had a strong push in the fourth quarter. What do you remember saying to the guys on the sidelines?
Maragos: It was one of those deals where everybody knew the implications of the game because it was so early in the year and the first Big Ten game we played. Everybody knew how important it was and Minnesota had Eric Decker and Adam Weber. We knew it was going to be a really tough match-up. When the game got close with us in a hostile environment, we had to bow up. Guys knew what they had to do and had that look on the sideline. With how bad we wanted it, we knew we were going to go out and execute, and that's what we did.
Badger Nation: How big of honor is it for you to be asked back to be named the honorary captain, especially this week?
Maragos: It's an extremely humbling experience to be honest. Thinking about my journey to Wisconsin and being elected as captain by my team, it's so humbling. It's one of those things that you don't take lightly, that you really appreciate how special the place is, especially after you leave the program. To come back and do something like this is such an honor and is such a great experience to have.
Badger Nation: Do you have any idea what you are going to say to the team?
Maragos: Yeah, there are a couple things I have hashed back and forth. Really just talk about what drives them and the cohesiveness with the team. Talk about the adversity the year and in the game, having them bind together to get through those things. I have some main bullet points.
Badger Nation: What are your thoughts on Minnesota this season?
Maragos: I've seen a little of Minnesota, and I know there head coach (Jerry Kill) is a real quality person. He's a man of high character and he's building program. From what I have seen, he's doing the right things there and I think they are on the right track on getting on a competitive playing field.
NO matter what the record is or how many points they have score, you throw records out the window in a trophy game. When you are playing for something like this, it doesn't matter what your talent level is. You can really nullify all that stuff right there.
Badger Nation: What is the key to victory against the Gophers and what is your prediction?
Maragos: It's all about starting fast. You don't want to get a desperate team like Minnesota life and let them think they can stay in the game or win the game. You need to jump on them early and really discourage any sort of life. Montee Ball should get going early and score some quick points. If the Badgers can do that and force some three-and-outs, they should have control. The guys will be focused and ready to play.
They are definitely keeping in the axe. I am firm on that. UW with the ‘W' and I am going to say 34-17.