BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Coach Mark Reardon of the St. Augustine Prep football team heard the same question again and again since the Hermits started practice last week.
Why would St. Augustine want to scrimmage Paramus Catholic, one of the nation's top teams?
Paramus Catholic, which features one of the nation's top scholastic players in all-purpose standout Jabrill Peppers, dominated the scrimmage Monday afternoon. The Paladins led 49-0 at halftime.
"We need our kids to understand what it is to be a really, really good football team," Reardon said. "Unless you see it live and up close, you'll never get it. This is the stuff that has to be done if you're going to build a culture of winning football."
St. Augustine, the defending Cape-Atlantic League National Conference champion, features several talented players, but many of them are underclassmen.
"I don't think there was fear," Reardon said of his players. "I think there was shock. A lot of our kids on the field (Monday) had never suited up in a high school football game. They have some ability, but all of a sudden they ran onto the field against maybe the best team they'll ever see in high school."
Monday's scrimmage drew a crowd that filled half the home bleachers at St. Augustine. Most of them were there to see Peppers.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers excels at running back, wide receiver, quarterback and defensive back. He has verbally committed to the University of Michigan. Peppers led Paramus Catholic to the state Non-Public IV title last season, beating perennial power Bergen Catholic 37-34.
On Monday, Peppers lined up at quarterback and ran 40 yards up the middle for a touchdown on his only carry. Peppers sent a St. Augustine player flying to the turf with hard-hitting shoulder block on another Paramus Catholic touchdown.
"If you were to draw a picture of a Division I running back, he would be it," Reardon said of Peppers. "He's a different type of cat."
St. Augustine wide receiver Austin Francisco, of Atlantic City, lined up against Peppers. On one play, Peppers picked Francisco up and dumped him to the turf.
'It was definitely a challenge," Francisco said. "I think this was exactly what we needed. Some plays I got by him. Some plays I didn't. One play I got slammed (to the ground). But to be the best you have to play the best."
Paramus Catholic is about more than just Peppers, however. Offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty (a 6-7, 320-pound senior) is also headed to Michigan. USA Today ranks the Paladins No. 4 in the nation.
Paramus Catholic's speed showed more and more as the scrimmage progressed. The Paladins simply outran the Hermits to the end zone.
"They're nasty, hard-nosed, all business," Reardon said of Paramus Catholic.
The Hermits are also in the state Non-Public IV enrollment group. In order to have success in the playoffs, St. Augustine must beat teams such as Paramus Catholic, Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep.
"This lets us know what we're up against," said Hermits senior offensive lineman Mike McGrath, who is from Winslow Township. "If we make mistakes against these guys, we can correct them and play against our regular-season (opponents)."
Reardon scheduled the scrimmage last spring. Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge played for Reardon when the latter was an assistant at Lafayette University in the early 2000s. St. Augustine will scrimmage at Paramus Catholic next season.
Reardon is in his second season at St. Augustine. The Hermits finished 8-2 last season, losing 42-14 to Don Bosco Prep lost in the first round of the playoff. St. Augustine opens this season at Middle Township on Sept. 13.
Despite Monday's result, just playing the scrimmage boosts St. Augustine's profile. Not many South Jersey teams can say they played the No. 4 team in the nation.
And things should only get easier for the Hermits now.
"From my perspective, playing the best, fastest, most physical team you're going to see all year in your opener might not make a whole lot of sense to people," Reardon said. "But for me, it gives our kids the ability to progress and understand how hard we have to practice and do the things necessary to get better."
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