North’s Saint-Amour adjusting to Jackets’ new defense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive lineman Anree Saint-Amour (94) puts pressure on Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Ben Dinucci (3) at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (Photo: Jason Getz-USA Today Sports)

ATLANTA — Anree Saint-Amour has some distinct memories of former North Gwinnett football coach Bob Sphire coming unhinged, causing his Kentucky drawl to move up an octave.

One involves a charter bus and a toilet seat. A few involve football — a joke, some advice, a game or a play. Saint-Amour recalled in the state championship game in 2013, everything seemed to be going smoothly for North Gwinnett. The Bulldogs got a 14-0 lead before Norcross’ Miles Autry returned a kickoff that swung momentum in the game.

“Everything just kind of went south from there,” he said. “I remember the chills and going into The Dome.”

North Gwinnett’s class of 2018 players were just freshmen when Saint-Amour was a senior, but he was still there watching them play Colquitt County for the state title last December. When the game-winning kick went through the goalpost as time expired, Saint-Amour lost his mind with the rest if Suwanee.

“I was jumping over the fence to get to them, going crazy,” Saint-Amour said.

On Thursday, Saint-Amour’s focus was on the night ahead. Georgia Tech’s first official day of training camp began in a steady drizzle.

Georgia Tech begins training camp in its first season under new defensive coordinator Nate Woody and his coaching staff. He’d previously spend the last five years as the defensive coordinator at Appalachian State. He’s moving Georgia Tech’s 4-3 defense to a 3-4, meaning there will be one fewer lineman next to Saint-Amour.

Saint-Amour feels like he’s in more of a position to lead young players, and Woody’s fast-paced defense is putting him in a good position to get into the backfield and create negative-yardage plays.

“We’re going left and going right,” Saint-Amour said. “Pinning your ears down.”

While he’s kept the same weight, Saint-Amour is bound to attract more double teams in Woody’s 3-4 defense. It’s shifted the team’s focus to agility and base strength more than under former coordinator Ted Roof. It’s hard to put on weight, so Saint-Amour is glad that Woody and defensive line coach Jerome Riase value speed.

“Obviously knowing what I’m doing and knowing the ins and outs to the point where I can use my body as an advantage of getting past double teams,” Saint-Amour said. “Slanting inside, and going into that guard-tackle space is something we didn’t do in the other defense … coaches will tell you different ways to get past double teams.”

Malloy fights for a spot

A few Gwinnett freshmen are competing for playing time in training camp.

Wide receiver Malachi Carter from Mountain View High School could be a depth option, although maybe not featured in the Yellow Jackets’ run-heavy offense.

While head coach Paul Johnson and his staff hadn’t had a chance to watch freshmen practice when he spoke to members of the media on Thursday afternoon, he had an idea of what to expect from Parkview grad Christian Malloy. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back is listed on the roster as an A-back/B-back, but Johnson believes Malloy will fit in better at B-back.

Whether Malloy will crack the active roster or take a redshirt is up to his performance in training camp.

“I think he’s got good speed and balance,” Johnson said. “He’s a good running back. What he does will determine how much he plays. We’ll give him every opportunity, and if it looks like he can play meaningful plays, then we’ll play him.

“With all the freshmen, it’s all the same. We’ll give them a chance to make an impression, and sometimes it has to do with injury or depth at a position.”

Malloy is walking into a pretty stacked position at Georgia Tech. The B-back position is roughly six deep heading into camp. But starter Kirvonte Benson said he thinks almost every position is up for grabs.

“My back-ups, even the whole group (are pushing me),” he said. “Jerry (Howard), Jordan (Mason), even Christian — the freshman coming in. Everybody has potential to be a starter.”