RACINE - Even without his great hands, his blinding speed, and his uncanny knack for getting open, Horlick High School wide receiver Chris Maragos would make his mark on the football field.
"If Chris Maragos could not catch a ball, or if he could not run 20 yards without tripping over his feet, he still would be a benefit to our team," said Horlick coach George Machado. "What Chris is is a quality human being. He's a gentleman, a good student, comes from a strong family. He is a very strong positive influence on this football team."
Lucky for Machado that Maragos, who transferred from Park during the summer, is on his football team. In the wide-open passing offense at Horlick, Maragos has become one of the best wide receivers in southeast Wisconsin.
Through four games this season, he has caught 27 passes for 359 yards and scored two touchdowns. Machado calls him the best receiver in the Southeast Conference, and he is being looked at by several NCAA Division I schools, including Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Illinois.
"Chris is to wide receivers what Mike Ferron was to running backs, Tony Stauss was to quarterbacks, and Cardell Gallagher was to linebackers: One of the best to play here," Machado said. "He's that caliber of athlete. He can turn any regular play into a touchdown. He wants the ball in crunch time, and he has broken several long plays from just 4- or 5-yard passes."
Franklin coach Jesse Miller, whose team also passes about 90 percent of the time, knows a little bit about receivers, and is sold on Maragos.
"Chris is certainly one of the better ones out there," Miller said. "The best thing about Chris is how he runs routes. He gets off the line so fast and it's hard to keep up with him."
Machado calls the 6-foot, 185-pounder the total package: He has great speed - he made the WIAA state track meet three years in a row with Park - great hands and intense concentration. He's not afraid to go over the middle, Machado said, is a ferocious blocker and a tremendous leader.
Machado admitted at first he was hesitant to have Maragos show those leadership qualities, considering his transfer between two city schools.
"I figured there would be some resentments and some jealousies about this kid coming over for one year," he said. "But he has more than earned his stripes. He has earned his playing time, and he has earned his position on the field."
"It was a tough transition," Maragos said. "My mom worked there (at Park). I left friends, coaches and teammates behind. All summer long, I heard stuff from old teammates and others about being a traitor. It was tough to warm up in that first game because you would see these guys who you would bleed and sweat with."
Maragos faced his old team in the first game of the season. Machado said he heard plenty of verbal abuse being heaped on the senior, but Maragos did not respond to it. "He maintained himself with class," Machado said.
"Guys talk during every game," Maragos said. "You can't let that stuff bother you."
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Apparently it didn't. Maragos made nine catches for 115 yards and scored a touchdown in Horlick's 29-6 victory.
"It was kind of a good thing that we played them in the first game," Maragos said. "We got all that emotion out right away."
While dealing with his former teammates, Maragos had to fit in with his new teammates.
"It's tough to have a guy come over and shake things up," Maragos said. "But we were mature about it. We have handled it, and I think we're ready to play as a team."
Maragos made an already-solid set of receivers even stronger. While Maragos leads the team - and the county - with 27 catches, senior Chris Hall has caught 19 passes for 222 yards, senior Cal Servi has 10 receptions for 67 yards and sophomore running back Matt Ferron has added eight catches for 67 yards.
All those weapons ensure that no one can be double-teamed all the time, and that makes everybody more dangerous, Maragos said.
"The performance I have had is based on the players around me," he said. "It's so good to have other really good receivers around you. We can all work together."
Against Tremper last week, Machado used Maragos as a decoy on a fourth-down play near the end of the game. As expected, two defenders converged on Maragos, leaving a gaping hole in the middle, but Bryan Olle's slant pass fell incomplete and the Rebels lost 20-17.
"Chris will get catches because he's one of the best receivers in probably the best group of receivers we have ever had here,'' Machado said. "The offense is not built around him. We have not marquee-ed him. We have done nothing with him that would take away from the team concept."
The team will have a heavy test Friday night when they play undefeated Oak Creek at Hammes Field. The 4-0 Knights might match their 6-foot-5, 218-pound linebacker stud (major NCAA Division I prospect Travis Beckum) against Maragos, Machado said.
"When you game plan to stop someone like that, that's the ultimate compliment," Machado said. "He's a major player looking at major schools like Miami and LSU."
Maragos isn't intimated.
"I'm going to have to play out of this world against him,'' Maragos said. "But we won't back down from anyone. We won't be intimidated."