Speaking to a group of 250 Badger alumni and family at a golf charity in Naples, Florida, Head Coach Bret Bielema told the gathering that St. Jean, a local prospect from Lely High School, was slotted in as the starting mike linebacker going to camp.
St. Jean proved himself late in the season, making a career-high nine tackles against Cal Poly and another seven stops after starting the Champs Sports Bowl. But the fact Bielema had enough faith in his abilities to put him at the top of depth chart made St. Jean realize he needed to look forward.
"As soon as I heard that, mentally and physically, it raised my level of awareness," St. Jean said. "(Coach Bielema) said that I had the starting position and that I had to just maintain and keep it. That let me know that they wanted me there and they wanted me to raise my game. That's what I worked on all spring, setting myself apart."
Since that news hit him in the middle of February, St. Jean has looked like a man on a mission. Spending plenty of time with the playbook and studying keys, St. Jean has used his advanced knowledge of the defense to become a playmaker during fall camp.
In his brief career, St. Jean has played all three linebacker positions, was recruited as a safety and even dabbled at quarterback in high school.
Taking pieces of information from each position he's played at, St. Jean has improved his steps, his hands and his physicality, things he also learned from watching Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy.
"I feel like a more complete player now after studying them," St. Jean said. "Just turning on the film, they were fast to the ball, always pushing themselves to get better and bring that work ethic every day. Picking each other's minds was amazing."
It's also a benefit for Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren to move senior Jae McFadden to the weakside linebacker spot to open up a spot for St. Jean, as McFadden has also played every linebacker position in the UW backfield, giving the duo the utmost knowledge of what the other is supposed to be doing.
"It gives us a lot of speed and knowledge of knowing where everybody is supposed to be," St. Jean said. "Having that knowledge makes us play that much faster."
The duel experience of the two positions McFadden and St. Jean carry has been a standout through the first two weeks of camp. With every offensive play, the pair is able to read and react to what happens anywhere on the field, becoming sideline-to-sideline linebackers, a benefit that has allowed the first-string defense to be active in the turnover department.
While there is still work left to be done, St. Jean continues to approach practice with a chip on his shoulder, trying to prove that his coach's February message was the correct one.
"I want to be dependable and I want to create turnovers," St. Jean said. "A lot of people are counting on me to lead this defense, and I don't want to let any of them down."