Photo by Christine Troyke
Football coaches typically don't like their offensive linemen to be nice guys. They would rather them be mean and nasty.
North Gwinnett's Manrey Saint-Armour knows how to balance both.
The soft-spoken senior with a warm smile seems more like a Boy Scout off the field. It's during a play when he changes. Saint-Armour plays with an intensity rarely seen as he flies around until the whistle blows.
And after the play he'll hope the best for you.
"I've been in it a long time and as far as a level of intensity and focus and commitment to excellence, this young man is 100 percent all the time," North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said. "You watch him play a game, from snap to whistle, he is non-stop. He's relentless. He's one of the most relentless players I've ever had."
The best example of Saint-Armour's nice guy personality turned tenacity came at a team camp at West Georgia this summer.
"It was Sunday morning. I couldn't go to church. I got real pumped," said Saint-Armour, who was born in Haiti and moved to the U.S. when he was 2. "It was Sunday, playing football, there's no better feeling than that, so I just took the joy that I would have on a Sunday morning in church and put it in football."
Saint-Armour was in a one-on-one blocking drill with an opposing team and was stronger and fundamentally better than the guy in front him. His opponent got frustrated and began to curse. Saint-Armour took care of it and finished him off.
"In anything he does, he goes 110 percent," North quarterback C.J. Uzomah said of Saint-Armour. "We had team camp and he had this kid, a noseguard, and pushed him 15 yards and pancaked him. The whistle blew and he picked him up and said, 'God bless.' Patted him on the head and runs back to the huddle. ... He's a real up-tempo kid. He helps us out a lot."
Uzomah and the rest of the offense will rely Saint-Armour's intensity a lot this season. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound center is the only returning starter along the offensive line. With the departure of SEC signees Austin Shephard and Ju'Wuan James along the line, it's now Saint-Armour's team to lead.
"We rely on him tremendously," Sphire said. "We put all our protections on our center instead of our quarterback for the most part. You see him up there, he's choreographing everything."
Saint-Armour led the team in pancake blocks last season with 135. If North's preseason game against Grayson is any indication, it looks like he'll eclipse that number this season. He had 18 pancakes against the Region 8-AAAAA champion Rams.
He had seven more and the highest blocking grade on the offensive line this past Saturday as North rolled to a 34-14 win over Lassiter in the Corky Kell Classic.
"He's a motorboat. He's strong and tough and is going to try and finish every play," North offensive line coach Chuck Allen said. "He's just one of those kids that's a gym rat and does what we ask him to do and does it to the best of his ability."
Saint-Armour is a member of his team's leadership council and has taken it upon himself and teammate Tyler Hedges to start a team Bible study. His father is a pastor at a church in Decatur, so Saint-Armour is very strong in his faith. The group meets once a week in the field house and it started that infamous day when Saint-Armour pancaked his opponent at camp.
After all, how could you not want to pray with someone who will put an opponent on his back and then hope the best for him?
"When we're in the trenches, I'm going to bring it as hard as I can until the whistle blows," Saint-Armour said. "After the trenches, I'll pick you up and say 'God bless you,' but when it's between the whistle it's game time."