One of the first encounters Chris Maragos can recall of Russell Wilson is one that endures perhaps more than any in their budding friendship.
It was during the Seattle Seahawks’ training camp last year and Maragos, a safety, was trying to stick after two years of on-and-off employment in the NFL. As for Wilson, he was a rookie quarterback out of the University of Wisconsin who seemingly had no chance of beating out Matt Flynn, the Seahawks’ signature offseason free-agent signing.
Wilson might have accepted his inevitable clipboard-carrying assignment as a rookie, but he didn’t. He was so focused, in fact, that when he suffered an arm injury during the preseason, Wilson refused to concede the job to Flynn.
It was during this time when Maragos saw Wilson being treated for his left arm injury in the training room. Instead of dozing off or zoning out to music through headphones, Wilson was intensely scribbling notes about that week’s game.
“His one arm is getting worked on and with the other one, he’s writing things down, watching film and swiping through his iPad,” Maragos said. “It’s 6:15 in the morning and everyone is trying to rest.
“When I go to leave now, I’m one of the closer ones to being the last out and his car is always there.”
And for Maragos, a 2005 Horlick High School graduate who survived in the NFL only by overachieving, that said a great deal.
“He’s always looking for knowledge,” Maragos said. “He’s always looking to better himself. He’s always looking to perfect himself to refine his craft.”
Just as Maragos has done.
While Wilson is considered one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL after beating out Flynn and going on to play in the Pro Bowl, Maragos has developed into a special teams ace and safety.
“He has such a great work ethic and he studies so well,” Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider said of Maragos. “And then he’s able to carry all that preparation onto the field.
“He’s just able to get out there, run real fast, be real aggressive and he controls a lot of things for us. He’s a core member for us.”
Their levels of profile in the public eye contrast markedly, but Maragos and Wilson share a great deal of common ground.
Wilson transferred and then emerged at Wisconsin, just as Maragos did. Wilson was considered too short for his position, just as Maragos was. Wilson became a born-again Christian, just as Maragos did. And both overcame the odds to succeed in the NFL.
Through this bond, a friendship has evolved. They socialize. They pick each other’s brains about football strategy. And they are there for each other as friends, such as when Wilson autographed 15 footballs for Maragos’ annual football camp.
“He’s the quarterback of the offense, obviously, and I’m kind of the quarterback of the defense, the last line of defense,” Maragos said. “So I’m always asking him, ‘What are you looking for from a defensive standpoint? What are you looking for me to do? What makes it hard for you when I give you certain looks to try and throw you off in coverage?’
“And it’s the same thing from him. He’ll say, ‘What are you thinking about when you’re in the middle of the field and you’re reading me?’ We just try to give insight to each other.”
Maragos’ one full season as a starter at Wisconsin was in 2009. Wilson’s only season for the Badgers was in 2011. But they started making up for lost time when Maragos, who signed with the Seahawks in October 2011, reached out to Wilson after he was drafted.
“I just told him, ‘If there’s any way I can help you get adjusted and get acclimated to everything, just let me know,’ ” Maragos said. “We were just able to connect through the whole University of Wisconsin thing. And, of course, we were talking junk to the other Big Ten guys (on the Seahawks) throughout the year.”
With Wilson setting the tone and Maragos serving as such an inspiration with his all-out effort, the Seahawks went 11-5 and advanced to an NFC divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons before losing 30-28.
And through it all, Wilson and Maragos connected on a daily basis through their faith.
“That’s the biggest way we connect,” Maragos said. “Before a game, I’ll stop down in his room and we’ll just pray for each other.
“Having that time to build as brothers, those are the most memorable times for me.”
Peter Jackel is a reporter for The Journal Times. You can reach Peter at (262) 631-1703 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org