It's easy to imagine St. Augustine Prep coach Mark Reardon as South Jersey football's Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill every regular season only to have it roll down on him and his team in the state tournament.

And the boulder is getting bigger.

St. Augustine's 57-33 loss to Bergen Catholic in the first round of the Non-Public 4 tournament on Nov. 12 was proof of that.

As was Bergen Catholic's 28-7 loss to St. Peter's Prep in the next round.

"That's our reality," Reardon said. "And nobody else really understands."

Former Paul VI coach John Doherty understands it, which is one reason he's the Eagles' former coach. Banging his head against that wall for a dozen years can wear on a guy.

Camden Catholic coach Nick Strom feels some of Reardon's pain. The Irish are in Non-Public 3, and although they don't compete with most of the North Jersey superpower programs, they get a glimpse of the challenges in the same field with the likes of DePaul Catholic and St. Joseph of Montvale.

"You leave those games like a M.A.S.H. unit," Strom said of battles with some of the deepest, strongest, most physical high school football teams in the country.

Strom and many other South Jersey non-public coaches are hoping a Dec. 5 vote by the NJSIAA's general membership results in a drastic change of the non-public playoff system.

They are hoping a majority of schools endorses the WJFL's proposal to return non-public tournament play to the sectional format, with champions in South A and South B and North A and North B - and no state champion, as specified but somehow ignored in the NJSIAA constitution.

Reardon disagrees. He knows he is "walking a fine line" with regard to his South Jersey colleagues. He goes out of his way "not to sound arrogant" in presenting his dissenting point of view.

Plus, he knows some people think he must be off his rocker in his insistence that the best thing for his football program is to continue to battle the likes of Bergen Catholic, St. Peter's Prep, Don Bosco Prep, and Paramus Catholic.

After all, St. Augustine is 0-5 against those programs in Reardon's tenure losing by an average of 27 points.

"I have no interest in trying to win a sectional title," Reardon said. "I just don't. I don't understand the New Jersey setup for the playoffs, competing against the same teams you see in the regular season to try to win a sectional championship."

Reardon hopes the WJFL proposal is shot down and St. Augustine is allowed to continue its quixotic pursuit of a state championship, as distant as that goal might seem.

Some might think he's delusional or a glutton for punishment.

The better way to view the energetic coach is as a fierce competitor who refuses to "settle" for a path of lesser resistance.

"I really think it's a blessing for our program to be able to compete against those teams," Reardon said. "That's our challenge, but to me it changes our program. It really defines us in that we know that's who we have to compete against."

This probably was Reardon's best team in his five seasons at the prestigious school in Richland, Atlantic County. St. Augustine was 8-0 against South Jersey opponents, averaging 41.8 points.

St. Augustine's smallest margin of victory was 19 points over Vineland, which entered the game with a 7-0 record. The Hermits beat Holy Spirit, 41-0, and St. Joseph of Hammonton, 42-0.

But against Bergen Catholic, St. Augustine fell behind, 50-13, at the half.

And remember, Bergen Catholic was beaten soundly the next week by St. Peter's Prep.

It's been five years since Reardon and his pal Charlie Roman, the former head coach at Holy Spirit, took over the St. Augustine program and vowed to raise the Hermits to a level at which they would be able to compete with the North Jersey superpowers.

But after five years - after all that time in the weight room, all those offseason workouts, all that effort in attracting football players to the school, all those imposing victories over South Jersey foes - there are quiet moments when Reardon and Roman look at each other and question whether they've closed the gap at all.

But Reardon is undeterred. He said he has to work harder, although it's tough to imagine there's much room for improvement in that area.

He knows the Hermits need more players, bigger players, better players. Bergen Catholic had around 120 players on the sideline. St. Augustine had 40 to 45.

He knows the Hermits need to "get a little lucky" in terms of attracting top linemen who continue to grow and develop through their high school careers.

He knows it's going to be tough. He thought he knew it five years ago.

But he's not giving up. He's not going to stop pushing that boulder up that hill.

Because even after getting flattened for the fifth year in a row, Mark Reardon remains convinced that someday he's going to get to the top.

@PhilAnastasia

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