Religion, family, football.
Those three things, in order, are what define Chris Maragos. As a former captain and free safety for the Wisconsin Badgers, however, Maragos is known better for what he’s done on the field than for his life off it.
Likewise, his current focus — and the reason he continues to be in the news four months after his final collegiate football game — is on football with this weekend’s NFL Draft.
Don’t expect to hear Maragos complain about the lack of focus on his personal life, though. Maragos, a 23-year-old native of Racine, Wis., sees the opportunity presented by his popularity as a football player, rather than focusing on any negatives.
“I have a unique story; football has given me a platform to share my story and an avenue to reach people and impact people’s lives,” Maragos said. “Right now, people know who I am just because I played football. I recognize that and want to use that to tell other people how to make courageous decisions.”
That mentality, one that puts God and others before self, is evident in Maragos’ daily life. It’s also evident in Maragos’ attitude toward this weekend’s NFL Draft. While many others fret over the event and host large parties, Maragos plans to spend time with his family.
While Maragos hopes to be drafted this weekend and join an NFL team in the coming weeks, he realizes that may not be what God has in store for his life. If that’s the case, he’s OK with it.
“It’s just going to depend in the draft on what teams like me and if they have a pick during or around the area of the draft where my stock is and if I’m the guy that they want to take at that time,” Maragos said. “It can go any which way, so I’m just waiting and hoping to get my name called.”
As a student at UW-Madison, Maragos was part of several student groups, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusaders for Christ and Athletes in Action.
For his off the field work with Athletes in Action, Maragos was recognized as a one of 11 NCAA Division I football players selected for the All-State AFCA Good Works Team.
“We were really involved in setting up a Blood:Water Mission here on campus, which raised over $10,000 in four years for clean water in Africa and put clean water wells in over there,” Maragos said. “We’ve also done the Orphan campaign, which raises awareness for the AIDS pandemic in sub-Sahara Africa.”
As a part of the Good Works Team, Maragos flew in January from Orlando — where he had just finished playing his final collegiate football game days earlier — to New Orleans.
There, he was part of a group that helped rebuild an elementary school that had been damaged heavily by Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to his work with these groups, Maragos also does a lot of community service on his own time. He often visits jails and schools for his personal speaking events, where he tells the story of his life.
‘Always a terror’
When he was young, Maragos was always wild and rebellious.
As a child, however, his wild antics involved trivial things like dumping a pitcher of Kool-Aid on his brother’s head. None of it compared to the kind of trouble he got himself into during his sophomore year of high school at Washington Park High School in Racine.
It began the week after Park’s homecoming game, when Maragos provided marijuana to one of his classmates, whose father also happened to be a police officer.
Maragos, who was on the school’s junior varsity football team at the time, was suspended for three games after the marijuana incident. To show he truly was sorry for what he had done, Maragos gathered his team together to apologize. When questioned by his parents, he admitted to the mistake, relieving some of their stress at the time.
But that would not be the last incident.
There were two more shortly thereafter, each causing greater concern for his parents than the one before. The first involved Maragos possessing and using pepper spray, which led to his suspension from the school.
“One of the girls in my class had a canister of pepper spray. I had never seen or used it before, so I wanted to try it out,” Maragos said. “During class one day, I used the entire thing, which caused everyone in the room to tear up and have to leave the room. When they left the room, it spread into the hallway. Eventually, the entire wing had to be evacuated.”
With the last incident, Maragos finally realized there was a problem with what he was doing and that something had to change.
In December of the same year, Maragos went out with some friends and spent the night vandalizing Christmas decorations around town, while capturing their actions on video.
Finally, Maragos figured out what the problem was.
“Something was missing, and I was looking to fill it with all the wrong things — alcohol, drugs, whatever it might be,” he said. “All that stuff would work me for a short time, but it would fade away and leave me kind of empty.”
Maragos decided to fill that void with a strong Christian faith.
Since then, faith has become the most important aspect of Maragos’ life and the reason he chooses to do many things.
‘And all these things will be given to you as well’
As a senior in high school, Maragos transferred from Park High to William Horlick High School in Racine; from there, he enrolled at Western Michigan as a walk-on with the opportunity to earn a scholarship through his on-field performance.
While things did not go according to plan for Maragos as a member of the Bronco football team, he began to shape his future off the field while living in Kalamazoo. As a freshman, he met Serah West, who lived one floor above Maragos in the same dorm building.
Maragos and West grew to become close friends during their first semester at Western, and eventually started dating in January 2006. The key to the development of their relationship, not surprisingly, was their common Christian faith.
“After we met, we actually didn’t really hang out much at first, but a couple months later Chris invited me over to read the Bible with him after we had just finished a Bible study,” she said. “That’s when we both really understood that we wanted to further our relationship with each other, because we were on the same page spiritually.”
That connection — one built through God — is something that has driven many of Maragos’ closest relationships with others.
When Maragos decided to transfer from Western Michigan to Wisconsin, Christian faith — his and that of others — played a significant role in helping him not only find a roommate, but also to develop a close friendship with that roommate.
As he was exploring the idea of transferring, Maragos reached out to his brother, Troy, who was Bucky Badger at the time. In addition to his role as Bucky, Troy Maragos was a member of Campus Crusaders for Christ, an organization his younger brother would later join.
After they talked, Troy connected Chris with then-UW wide receiver Luke Swan, who also was a member of Campus Crusaders for Christ. When Maragos decided to transfer, Swan suggested they become roommates. Living together, the two shared their faith even more.
“Faith was our first connection. That’s why we’re drawn together and why we’re similar. All the other stuff just stems off that realization that God has given us the gift to play football, and the work ethic just falls into place,” Swan said. “Chris definitely exhibits that, and it’s shown in his leadership and the way he’s worked over this last year. We’re both highly competitive as well, and I think that stems from the same thing — just realizing who we’re representing through that and He has just created each of us to be similar in that sense.”
According to Maragos, he and Swan share their faith with each other not because it’s something they feel they need to do, but because it’s such a big part of their lives.
It’s just something that came through everyday interaction, he said.
“It’s not like every conversation of every day we talk about our faith,” Maragos said. “But our faith is the central hub for who we are, so it naturally just comes out all the time.”
Maragos’ daily life typically includes some time spent reading the Bible, though he does not have a predetermined amount of reading for each day. Instead, he said he lets the Holy Spirit guide him in his decision, whether it means reading one chapter or four.
His favorite Bible verse, Matthew 6:33, is one that he tries to live his life by. It reads: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“That verse means a lot to me because God’s Word says ‘Seek me first.’ It doesn’t say ‘Seek me second,’ or ‘seek me third,’ or ‘seek me fourth,’ or ‘when it’s convenient for you,'” Maragos said. “It says ‘seek me first.’ So ‘seek first His kingdom and His righteousness’ and on the flip side, if you do that first and foremost, ‘all these things will be given to you.'”
What has been given to Maragos since his faith became such an integral part of his life is more than he ever imagined, including a successful college football career at Wisconsin and — as of April 9, 2010 — a wife.
Maragos and West continued to date after his move from Kalamazoo to Madison. She moved a semester after he did, a decision that she said did not come easily. In the end, West’s decision came down to her desire to be involved in Maragos’ football career.
“When you really care about someone, you’re really passionate about what they’re passionate about; so I decided to move,” she said.
Earlier this month, the two were married, creating yet another bond between the two.
Just as their relationship developed through a common faith-based bond, Chris and Serah Maragos see God as an integral part of their marriage as well.
“My parents have always taught me to use a triangle as perspective: Serah’s on the bottom left and I’m on the bottom right,” Chris Maragos said. “The closer we get to the top of the triangle, which represents God, the closer we are going to get together.”
‘The Lord has a plan for both of us’
That faith which Chris and Serah Maragos share is even more important to them today as they prepare for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Since competing in his final collegiate football game on Dec. 29, 2009, Maragos has spent a majority of his time focusing on improving his draft stock. Whether it is working out, watching film or meeting with NFL teams, Maragos’ last four months have been busy.
And while their future remains uncertain, both Chris and Serah Maragos remain confident they will find success, with or without football.
“We’re both just so at peace with the Lord and trust that He is directing us,” Serah Maragos said. “Wherever we go we both trust the Lord has a plan for both of us.”
That confidence and trust in God comes back to the way Maragos defines himself.
He is not worried about his football career because it is not his first priority in life. Rather, he sees greater importance in his relationship with his wife and in his faith even more so.
“My faith is by far the most important and the biggest aspect of my life. It’s really who I am, that’s where my identity lays,” Maragos said. “I’m not a football player; I’m not this, that or the next thing. I’m a Christian first and then a husband second and a football player third.”