Senior captain O'Brien Schofield calls him a star. Fellow safety Jay Valai calls him a stud. Sophomore Aaron Henry calls him a man of immense faith. Here's another adjective Badger fans can use to describe the receiver turned safety – playmaker.
For the second consecutive week, with Wisconsin's backs firmly against the wall, Maragos, once again, comes up with the big play at the end of the game, this time intercepting a pass in overtime and watched joyously as UW kicked the winning field goal in overtime, beating Fresno State 34-31 Saturday.
"I just want to be a guy that makes plays for my teammates," Maragos said. "These last two games, I just was in the right spot to make the play and fortunately I made the play. We played four quarters and two overtimes ... it was really a team effort."
With the two squads deadlocked in a 31-all tie heading into the second overtime, Bulldogs quarterback Ryan Colburn went for the glory on his first play from scrimmage, trying to hit wide receiver Chastin West in the back of the end zone on a corner post.
Having outside coverage, Maragos was the only Badger close to making a play. As fate would have it, Colburn's pass was slightly underthrown, allowing Maragos to register UW's third interception of the game.
"I saw the ball in the air and the receiver had about a yard or two on me," said Maragos, who played every snap defensively. "I just put my head down and ran, looked up for the ball and it was there."
Six plays later, Wisconsin sophomore Phillip Welch drilled the game-winning 22-yard field goal to close a gritty week for the Badgers.
"It feels good (to hit the winner)," Welch said, "but the game was already won with Maragos making that interception."
One week earlier, Maragos was the main component in finishing off a pesky Northern Illinois squad. After the Huskies scored 14 points in a six-minute span, Maragos deflected a pass on fourth down that sealed UW's win. If Maragos had his way, he would have rather sealed this game an overtime sooner, narrowly missing an interception that resulted in a Bulldog touchdown.
"I played it beautifully, but the quarterback made a perfect throw," Maragos said. "You just have to come back and keep battling."
While Maragos was fighting in the backfield, his fellow captain, Schofield, was fighting tooth and nail at the line of scrimmage. Leading the team with 11 tackles, seven solo tackles and four tackles for loss, Schofield has transformed himself from a nervous linebacker to one of the premier pass rushers in the conference.
"They just really are true testaments of what hard work and dedication (can do)," UW coach Bret Bielema said of his two senior captains.
Chalk it up to the season's first early kickoff or the Badgers still being plagued with a touch of the flu, but Wisconsin's secondary defined the term ‘lethargic' in the opening 30 minutes.
The Bulldogs had little trouble making headway against the Badger corners, registering 227 yards in the opening half and doing most of their damage through air.
It started with Chastin West using a stutter step against sophomore Aaron Henry to be wide open for the opening score, continued when Devon Wylie ran right by sophomore Devin Smith for a 70-yard touchdown and ended with sophomore Anotnio Fenelus guessing wrong on a slant route, leaving Seyi Ajirotutu unguarded for a 15-yard score.
Every time it seemed Wisconsin's offense had cut into the momentum, the Bulldogs offense made sure to pounce right back, until John Clay made his statement.
Wisconsin's running game had stalled for 34-plus minutes, registering only 71 yards on 25 carries (2.8 yards per carry), a big reason UW was trailing 21-17 with five minutes, 45 seconds left. After Fresno State failed to capitalize on a 16-play, 71-yard drive, Clay took control on the next play, getting a huge hole from the offensive line and not stopping until he reached the end zone 72 yards later.
"That was a big momentum swing (for the) offense and defense," Clay said. "I was thinking that I can't get tackled. I was on a mission."
Added Bielema: "He had a purpose. Everyone wants to talk about the 245 pound John Clay. That kid can run."
Despite Fresno State pounding Wisconsin with 468 total yards and twice leading by 14 points, the Badgers, a team that was ravaged with upwards of 45 players being out at various times of the week because of the flu, showed their resiliency, chalking up one of the more character-building victories in recent memory.
"You look at what we are trying to do and what we are trying to accomplish, we've got a bunch of tough guys that are willing to work," Maragos said. "Guys with 101 temperatures are out there practicing and that's what I love about this team. We might not be the best talented, but we have guys are willing to work hard."