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Friday, December 01, 2023

UW seniors crucial in team leadership

Even as a captain and leader of the Wisconsin football team, senior defensive back Chris Maragos still knows when to follow.

Late in the season, as finals are approaching and the pressures of succeeding in school often exacerbate the pressure of playing a major Division I sport, it's not always easy for Maragos to reach his desired level of intensity for every practice.

""There's some days where it's tough for me to get going. But that's the thing about being a captain is you've got to be a good follower when you need to be, and you need to follow the right guys when guys are stepping up,"" Maragos said.

Following that senior leadership took on an added importance heading into this week is practice for the young Wisconsin team as it prepares for its season finale Saturday against Hawaii.

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Coming off their toughest loss to Northwestern, Maragos and the Badgers had a short week of practice before heading home for Thanksgiving. But according to Maragos, Monday and Tuesday's practices reaffirmed that Wisconsin's quartet of senior leaders wouldn't allow that to happen.

""We had the bye there [but] guys are coming ready to work. Give credit to [O'Brien Schofield], Garrett [Graham] and Mickey [Turner]. Those guys lead in great ways, and guys really follow the way that they come out here and practice, I follow the way that they practice,"" Maragos said. ""It comes from the top down, so if those guys are doing it, everybody is going to do it.""

That kind of consistent leadership has arguably been the most important component in the success of this Wisconsin team, particularly for the defense. After the suspensions of senior safeties Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter before the season, the Wisconsin defense fielded five first-time starters for the season opener against Northern Illinois.

Yet with the help of Maragos, Schofield and senior middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden, the defense did not allow a team to rush for over 100 yards in its Big Ten schedule and finished as the top rush defense in conference play.

While McFadden acknowledged the strength of the senior leadership as a driving force in that success, he credited the younger players on the defense for their willingness to learn.

""The kind of young guys that we've got out there playing for us like to listen. As a senior, you respect that,"" he said. ""You've got guys that want to listen, that want to be good, that want to come out and do what you tell them to do and take your advice.""

Schofield said the most important part of leading the young defense was always letting the younger players know they had the support of the team leaders.

""As a team you can't really flinch, you've got to keep pushing through, you've got to make the best of your opportunities and the personnel,"" Schofield said. ""Guys are here for a reason—to play football, so you show the guys that are ready to play you have confidence in them and you roll.""

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