North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott (11) has a pass blocked by Georgia Tech's Anree Saint-Amour (94) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Photo: Gerry Broome/AP
Photo: Gerry Broome/AP

Anree Saint-Amour’s success has delighted his teammates

Anree Saint-Amour has had plenty of opportunity to celebrate himself. The Georgia Tech defensive end has been the Yellow Jackets’ most effective defender this season, leading the team with sacks (four), tackles for loss (10.5) and quarterback hurries (eight).

But it’s not his way.

“He’s just Anree,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “He’s not going to get a big head, and (he has) got a lot of humility about himself. That’s what makes him a special player to me.”

The son of Haitian immigrants, Saint-Amour has been a difference-maker for Tech, a player who has fit snugly into new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s aggressive 3-4 scheme and has provided the effort and ability to make it work.

“He’s an awesome guy,” linebacker Jalen Johnson said. “He’s making plays. It’s crazy. This is really his breakout year. It’s awesome. I’m so happy for him. I hope he goes to the top, for sure.”

Saint-Amour, from North Gwinnett High, has been making plays on a weekly basis. Against Bowling Green, an interception returned for a touchdown. Against Louisville, a sack and two forced fumbles, both of which Tech recovered and which led to touchdowns.

Against Duke, two sacks against Duke and a hurry that created an interception. Against Virginia Tech, two tackles for loss that snuffed out the Hokies’ efforts to stay in the game.

Against North Carolina on Saturday, three hurries and nine tackles (both career highs) and one of the plays of the season, an interception in which he peeled off his pass rush to drop back into coverage, snagging a pass with hands worthy of a tight end. It earned him defensive lineman of the week honors from the ACC.

“I think he’s a fantastic football player, I really do,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “We had a tremendous amount of respect for him heading into the football game. Probably even more respect for him after the game. Active, plays hard. He’s got some athleticism, strength. Fine, fine football player.”

Through three seasons, Saint-Amour contributed, but nothing like this. As a senior, he has been a menace defending the run, deflecting passes and pressuring the quarterback.

“It feels great, satisfying,” Saint-Amour said. “It feels great individually, but like I said before, this is a big team thing. We’re trying to get to a bowl game. We’re trying to stay alive in the conference race, and that’s a better feeling. Winning a game, at the end of the day, is a better feeling.”

For three seasons, Saint-Amour played in the 4-3 defense of former coordinator Ted Roof, playing with effort and producing some results, but perhaps lacking the ideal size for the position. While ends in 3-4 defenses are typically even bigger than 4-3 ends (he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds), Woody’s scheme relies on players such as Saint-Amour, who can use their quickness to slant through gaps and get upfield.

When he was introduced to the defense, “I felt like all of us were just like, ‘Oh, wow, this is going to be a great fit for us,’” Saint-Amour said. “We’re not the biggest guys, but we have a lot of speed, and we’re really aggressive, so I feel like that fits our defensive line.”

Saint-Amour credits defensive line coach Jerome Riase for helping him understand the scheme and the line’s role in it, showing him what pass-rush moves will work and how to read offenses before the snap. Riase also has a way of tabulating production with a formula that measures players’ impact on a game, which has helped motivate Saint-Amour and his fellow linemen. Saint-Amour said that his scores have hovered around 2.2, which he said Riase equates to production at an All-ACC level. It’s been meaningful validation.

“It’s just a big thing for me to just keep on doing good,” he said.

It would not be a surprise if he received all-conference recognition, which would make him the first Tech defender to be so honored since Adam Gotsis in 2015 and the first defensive end since Jeremiah Attaochu in 2013. Saint-Amour said it would mean a lot him to do so, as he could follow in the footsteps of his brother Manrey, who was an All-Sun Belt center for Georgia Southern in 2014.

“Oh, man, it’d be great,” Saint-Amour said.

It likely would be worthy of celebration at Emmanuel Haitian Alliance Church in Lithonia, which was founded by Saint-Amour’s parents (Manfred and Renise) and where his father, Manfred, is pastor. And, similarly, in the Tech locker room.

“He always has that smile on his face,” Johnson said. “He’s an awesome guy.”

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