by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Wisconsin Safety Chris Maragos (21)

Once overlooked by most Division I programs, Chris Maragos ended up changing schools and positions to give himself the best chance to make it to the NFL. What may have helped him the most, though, was his pro day performance.

Wisconsin’s 2009 interception leader posted a blistering 6.4-second 3-cone drill and a 3.96 20-yard shuttle, times that would have bested all participants at this year’s NFL combine. In his interview with PD, Maragos touched on his consistent efforts to get noticed, as well as a very important weekend in April happening before the draft.

Well, I have to say that I saw your pro day times, and I was stunned. I was wondering if you could talk about how you felt about them, and then maybe we can talk about what the people at the combine were thinking.

Yeah, you know, for me, I’ve always been pretty confident in my ability, and I just wanted to get an opportunity to get out there and compete. You know, I didn’t get invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, so one of the things that I really wanted to do was get out there and showcase what I can do at our school’s pro day. I knew I was going to run fast, going into – starting my training, but my trainer, Brad Arnett at NX Level in Milwaukee, did a great job. He really did a great job with me, and got me ready to do what I needed to do.

It’s one thing that you were, I think, tied for second in the 40 for safeties, but your shuttle times would have been the fastest of anybody at the combine. Was that a surprise to you, or have you always been that quick?

No, not really. No, I’ve always been that quick. My 40’s always been fast, I felt, you know? And going into it, I think a lot of scouts, a lot of teams, they kind of had me at a 4.65 (second 40), 4.67, and then I ran a 4.47. So, you know, I was always confident in my ability, and I just think I needed to prove that to other people. That’s kind of been the story of my life. I’ve been a walk-on at Western Michigan, and I played receiver. I was a walk-on at Wisconsin, and I switched to defensive back. I’ve only been a defensive back for two years. So, for me, I’ve always had to go out there and show everybody what I could do. People have heard different things, but until you go out there and do it people (don’t) actually realize. I think that was the case again: I was underestimated again, and I went out there and proved what I could do.

Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s something that people see on film, or is it something that they might be missing?

I think, you know, I’m the type of guy that – with my situation and kind of with my (early) years – it’s hard to put all your stock in a guy like me. You know, I’m 5-10, 200 pounds, and I’ve only been playing the position, safety, for two years in college. So, I think a lot of people, they look at a guy like Eric Berry or they look at a guy like Darrell Stuckey, any of those guys, they look at those guys before they would me, and then they kind of, in a sense, put me on the back burner, because they haven’t seen much about me. They haven’t really heard all that much. But I think as they go back, and as they look at the films again and look at my times, I think they’re going to see something special.

Let’s talk about your journey to Wisconsin. What do you think has been the most memorable aspect of that?

You know, it’s actually pretty neat. It’s actually a funny story, how I even got into college. Western Michigan was the only Division I school to actually give me a walk-on spot. I was playing receiver at the time, and at that time I trained with current Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings. And then after a falling out because I was a walk-on and I wasn’t going to get compensated financially after I started as a redshirt freshman, I transferred to Wisconsin. Actually, how I got to Wisconsin was by my current roommate right now, Luke Swan. He was a former Badger captain, and a great receiver here… I actually facebooked him and asked him if he would take my film up to the coach’s office, because he was a walk-on receiver from Wisconsin. So we had something in common, and our faith was very similar, and a lot of different things. That’s actually how I got to Wisconsin.

You know, it’s been a wild ride. I’d say the most memorable thing for me, probably, that I’m going to take from everything, would be just the fact that I got to wear the W on my helmet and the W on my jersey. I’ve been growing up – been coming to their games since 1993. My family had season tickets to Badger games, and I grew up watching these guys and I wanted to be just like them. And now that I’m in that position, it’s just humbling, and it’s a blessing just to be here.

When you were recruited as a receiver to Western Michigan, were you planning on being a starter, or did you think, because no other larger schools had recruited you, that you’d have to kind of bide your time?

No, I went in for one or two summer workouts right before fall camp, and I watched guys run routes and I watched seven-on-sevens, and I knew right there, going into that, I was probably the third best receiver there, just watching it. And ever since then, I was pretty confident. I took that year – I traveled as a true freshman in the games, but because Greg Jennings was doing so well and he was kind of the feature (receiver), I decided to redshirt. And then that redshirt freshman year, after he left, that’s when I stepped in and started… So, I was always confident in my abilities. Another reason why I was kind of under the radar – it’s kind of been the story of my life, but – out of high school, I was actually at Racine Park for the first three years of high school, and I transferred my senior year. So I think I kind of got lost (off) the radar between colleges because I switched schools. And I was doing really well (in high school). John Clay was at my school – I’m sure you’re familiar with him, the running back that we have who will be up for the Heisman next year. He was running the ball, and I was obviously playing receiver, so I needed to get in an offense to showcase myself to take my game to the next level. So senior year, I transferred to our crosstown rival, Horlick. They threw the ball, they ran the spread and all that good stuff. The first three, three-and-a-half games, I was leading the state in receptions, doing really well, starting to hear from a lot of schools, and then my quarterback broke his collarbone. I think I caught, like, six or seven passes the rest of the year. So it was one of those things where I was kind of under the radar once again, and Western Michigan was the only team to give me that shot.

And why the transfer to safety at Wisconsin?

I came in and I had to sit that year out of eligibility, because when you transfer Division I (to) Division I, you lose your eligibility, and I’d already used a redshirt. That was kind of a big question mark for a lot of people. They were saying, “Why would you transfer to Wisconsin? If you can’t get a scholarship at Western Michigan, why would you go to Wisconsin? That’s even harder, and then have to sit out a year, waste a year of eligibility.” But again, I was always confident, and I was trusting in the Lord’s plan, and I was just walking by faith. You know, I was playing that first year at receiver against the defense every day on scout team, and the defensive coach (Dave Doeren), I think, saw a lot in me. I think (Head) Coach (Bret Bielema) saw quite a bit of talent in me, and they asked me if I would be willing to make a switch in spring ball to go out there and try and see what I could do. I was willing to do it, and felt like I could do it, and it worked out to be the best.

What was that switch like? What do you think were the hardest adjustments to make?

(Laughs.) Oh, man, it wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. I played receiver my whole life: You get the play, you break the huddle, you know where you’re going to go, what route you’re going to run, how you’re going to do it, before the snap. And you’re doing everything forwards, which is a natural body position. You flip to defense, and everything’s reaction. You don’t know what play is coming, you’re backpedaling, everything is backwards. It’s just extremely opposite body movements and way of thinking, that’s for sure. So, it took a little while to get adjusted to, but, you know, I got in the swing of things pretty quick.

I’ve been talking to a lot of linebackers, and they all seem to think that their position is the quarterback of the defense. Why don’t you put in a good word for safeties?

(Laughs.) Oh, man, the safeties are the quarterbacks of the defense for sure. I control our strong safety, our corners, I control what our linebackers are doing in our defense. I think safeties definitely can get the whole picture and kind of bark out all the signals they need to bark out to put the guys in the right position. So, I definitely say safety’s the quarterback. But I’m sure it probably differs based on what defense you’re into.

What was the toughest offense you played against this season?

Toughest offense we played against. You know, Northwestern was pretty tough. They had a good quarterback, (Mike) Kafka. He was a good player. And they had a lot of solid receivers, guys who were really disciplined in their route concepts. They had very good schemes, and they kept you guessing. So Northwestern was pretty tough, and Fresno State, I thought, was a pretty good team this year. They had a lot of different weapons, and were pretty dynamic on offense. I’d probably say those were the best. Michigan State was pretty good, too.

After your pro day, have you gotten some notice from the NFL?

Yeah, you know, I definitely think there’s a buzz. Where that’s going to go, we’ll find out. I think that after a day like that, there’s always a buzz going on. We’re just trying to stay cool, stay working hard at what we’re doing. I really want to focus on my position work now and to get better as an athlete, now that I’m done with the testing, and I’m sure we’ll continue to hear good things.

For most guys in your position, the draft is the big weekend in April, but you have another big weekend coming up. Why don’t you talk about that?

(Laughs.) Oh, yeah, yeah. Probably even a bigger weekend for me, that’s for sure. Yeah, I’m getting married April 9… My fiancée, Serah, she’s absolutely phenomenal. She is by far the most supportive person to me, and it’s just really – I don’t know. If I didn’t have her, this whole process probably wouldn’t be going on right now. She’s always very encouraging, supportive of me, very loving, and, you know, she’s just absolutely great to have, and I really feel blessed to have her.

Well, Chris, I want to wish you congratulations, and good luck after that.

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate it.

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