Maragos following Jennings' path

2006-10-16T00:00:00Z Maragos following Jennings' pathBy Peter Jackel Journal Times
October 16, 2006 12:00 am  • 

The new kid in town was a star back home but just another face in a crowded room that April morning in 2005.

Chris Maragos, then a senior at Horlick High School, was experiencing his first taste of the intimidating college scene at Kalamazoo, Mich. Intending to play for Western Michigan as a walk-on, the former standout wide receiver for Horlick was in town for the Broncos' spring practice and for an opportunity to mingle with his new teammates.

When new head coach Bill Cubit broke up the team for position meetings, the nervous Maragos entered a room with the Broncos' other wide receivers. Feeling uneasy in this strange environment, Maragos could have used a friendly face to help ease his tension.

And then Greg Jennings emerged in the crowded room in that effortless way that defines his play on a football field and extended his hand to Maragos.

The same Greg Jennings who would become a sensation as a rookie wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers one year later.

"The first guy who came up to me was Greg," Maragos said. "He said, `I'm Greg Jennings. Nice to meet you. Looking forward to having you next year.' He was real excited about it.

"I had heard about this guy, but it never really registered with me. I was like, `Oh, that's cool.' He was really the only guy who came up and introduced himself to me. And, lo and behold, this was the star on team and, if anything, he shouldn't be saying anything to me because I'm a walk-on wide receiver and this guy is all-everything."

As a walk-on receiver, Maragos was forced to pay full tuition to the NCAA Division I-A school. But as he was to discover during the fall of 2005, that pricey tuition provided him with an ultimate educational experience, not only in the classrooms on Western Michigan's campus, but on the practice field when Professor Greg Jennings mesmerized his attentive pupil.

Jennings, the son of a Kalamazoo pastor, went so much beyond that first welcoming handshake with Maragos. From teaching Margos the intricacies of excelling as a collegiate wide receiver - and at only 6-foot and 185 pounds, Maragos has far from ideal physical attributes - to picking him up for church services Sunday mornings, Jennings formed a bond with a kid he easily could have dismissed as just another walk-on.

He encouraged him. He taught him. He guided him. He nurtured him. And he was always there for him, the star receiver for the walk-on kid.

"I remember my first year, I was on the scout team because I red-shirted," Maragos said. "I was going against the starters and I would make plays here and there and he would come up to me and say, `Hey, you're killing those guys!'"

But Jennings' real value to Maragos came not so much from what he said in terms of confidence-building encouragement, but simply from how he conducted himself. Just watching Jennings go about his business on a daily basis with a Jerry Rice-like work ethic made an indelible impression on Maragos.

"The thing that stands out to me the most about him is, yeah, he's a great football player and everything, but moreso about his personality," Maragos said. "Greg's the type of guy who, no matter how much everybody tells him how good he is, he will continue to work. That's always been his attitude.

"He's always been the most humble guy I met. I remember one game, I think he had like 200 and some yards and I remember, the next day he was watching film, just seeing what he could do better. He would always be first in the meetings, front row, pen out, ready to learn, ready to do things.

"That's basically what's really stuck out to me with Greg."

Through six games for Western Michigan (4-2), Maragos ranks sixth on the Broncos with 10 receptions for 103 yards. Filling in frequently as Jennings' old "Z" receiver slot, he has used the wisdom he learned from his mentor to hold his own against bigger, faster opponents.

"One time, we did a one-on-one drill," Maragos said. "It's us versus the DBs and then it's just the quarterbacks throwing. I remember my coach gave me a fade route against a DB one-on-one. I ran straight out on the fade and tried to beat him with my speed because I've had success with my speed.

"The ball went incomplete and the defender stuck with me. I came back off the field and Greg said, `You know, you've got to `middle' him up first to get his shoulders square and his feet square and then work him to the outside because he won't be able to turn his hips open fast.

"So I came out the next play, the coach gave me a fade again and I middled him up and then I worked out to the fade. I blew right past him and caught it for a touchdown. That was something he taught me in terms of technique. There's been numerous things, like little steps here or coming off the line or hand placement, just little things like that that give you separation from the defender."

Jennings was even a presence for Maragos on Sundays, the one day away from football for college players.

"I was looking for a church to go to and Greg's a very spiritual man," Maragos said. "His dad's a pastor, actually, in Kalamazoo. I said, `Hey, are there any church involvements I can get into or anything like that?' And he said, `Yeah!' and he was real outgoing about it. He said, `I'll pick you up for church' and this and that. He would make the effort to call me on Sundays to pick me up for church and he would drive out of his way with his wife, Nicole.

"And then they would take me back because I didn't have a car back here for my freshman year."

Jennings, who has been a sensation for the 1-4 Packers with 20 receptions for 364 yards and three touchdowns, has warm memories of his pupil one year later.

"He's a hard worker and wanted to get better every day," Jennings said. "One of the things that really stood out about him is that he would go get the ball no matter where it was thrown. Whether it was 5 yards in front of him or behind him, he would always try and go get the ball and that was one of the things I admired about him."

Trust Maragos when he says the pleasure was all his.

"This guy could have just been worrying about his All-American status instead of helping out a freshman," Maragos said. "That's Greg. You'll see him as a very unselfish player.

"I'm very, very fortunate and I don't think I could be set up better in any other spot. I mean, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Peter Jackel is a reporter for The Journal Times. You can reach him by calling (262) 634-3322, Ext. 323 or by e-mailing him at: peter.jackel@lee.net

Copyright 2015 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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