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Phil Anastasia: St. Augustine football takes aim at No. 1

Make no mistake: St. Augustine Prep didn't hire Mark Reardon as its football coach to go 7-4. And Reardon didn't leave Villanova as a defensive coordinator to go 7-4.

Make no mistake: St. Augustine Prep didn't hire Mark Reardon as its football coach to go 7-4.

And Reardon didn't leave Villanova as a defensive coordinator to go 7-4.

And Chalie Roman isn't leaving Holy Spirit to become Reardon's offensive coordinator to go 7-4.

Leave it to the blunt Roman to sum up this remarkable series of events, this seismic shift in South Jersey football: "St. Augustine Prep made an unbelievable commitment to beat Don Bosco."

That's Don Bosco Prep. That's the No. 1 football team in the nation in both 2010 and in 2011.

Now, let's be clear. It's 137 miles from Richland in Atlantic County to Ramsey in Bergen County, from St. Augustine to Don Bosco Prep.

But the truth is, the Hermits aren't nearly that close to the Ironmen. They are light years, not miles, from that level of competition.

But the Hermits clearly want to win and win big - and that could have a major impact on all of South Jersey football.

And the fact that neither Reardon nor Roman is shying away from the comparison with Don Bosco Prep - as far-fetched as that seems right now, especially since St. Augustine was 4-6 in 2011 - underscores the scope of their ambition.

Enrollment is up at St. Augustine, despite the economy, and school officials appreciate the value of great sports teams in terms of student-body spirit, alumni engagement, and as a boost to fund-raising.

Football never has been a great sport at St. Augustine, although former coach Dennis Scuderi had a few top teams in recent seasons. But when Scuderi was fired midway through this season, it was fair to wonder just how much the school wanted to win in the sport.

Answer: Reardon.

He has been Villanova's defensive coordinator the last seven years - including when the Wildcats won the national title in 2009 - and an assistant to Andy Talley the last 11 years. He also was an assistant at Lafayette, Siena, and Albany.

Like Clint Wiley, who left Villanova to become coach at Sterling this past season, Reardon has a young family, and the demands of being a college assistant - time and travel, especially - were tough on his home life.

"This was a family decision, a lifestyle decision," said Reardon, who took the St. Augustine position on Dec. 9.

But after years with a successful college program, these guys don't become high school head coaches to go 5-5. Or 7-4. They're used to recruiting, to competing at a high level, to dealing with top high school athletes.

Reardon said his aim is to "win championships." When you compete in Non-Public 4, that means beating Don Bosco Prep.

"That's the goal," Reardon said. "We're a long way from that. I understand that. But I'm not shying away from the fact that I'm taking this job to win football games."

Reardon called Don Bosco Prep "the white elephant in the room."

He said, "It needs to be addressed, and it will be addressed at our first team meeting."

St. Augustine has tremendous facilities, and its recruiting reach has stretched all the way down to Cape May and up to the Lenape district and everywhere in between. Obviously, that $15,000 or so a year in tuition is a factor in the pool of students from which it can draw.

But there always is financial aid. There are ways around some of those obstacles if a school really wants to be great in football.

And it sounds as if Augustine really wants to be great in football.

That will have a major impact on other Cape-Atlantic League teams, especially Holy Spirit and St. Joseph but also other private schools such as Camden Catholic and Paul VI and Gloucester Catholic.

Remember, too, that St. Augustine is setting this course just as Camden Catholic is emerging as a state power under coach Gil Brooks, who led the Irish to a 10-1 record in his first season. Brooks built St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia into a national power, so he has the blueprint in the top drawer of his desk.

St. Augustine dreaming of beating Don Bosco . . . Camden Catholic looking to widen its power base . . . St. Joseph coming off its third straight state title and 14th since 1993 . . . Paul VI looking to bounce back . . . Holy Spirit determined to maintain its excellence in the wake of Roman's stunning departure after two straight state titles . . .

Think the stakes have been raised a bit?

And remember, every kid who enrolls in a private school has a public-school program in his home district that he's deciding not to join. So a powerhouse at St. Augustine Prep that attracts big-time talent from all over South Jersey could impact lots of South Jersey football programs.

Nothing happens overnight. St. Augustine won't be challenging Don Bosco in 2012. Or 2013.

The Hermits probably won't be challenging St. Joseph or Holy Spirit - unless a bunch of those kids jump ship with Roman and follow their old coach to the woods of Richland - in 2012.

But these guys are dreaming big and their aspirations are likely to make a major impact on the South Jersey football scene.

The hiring of Reardon and Roman signaled a significant commitment at the administrative level. And when things happen at the administrative level at a school with the stature, reputation, resources, reach, alumni pipeline, and connections of a St. Augustine Prep, watch out.

Did you feel the earth move?

I swear I felt a rumble.