Published November 27. 2012 4:00AM
Groton - It has been suggested that home, the place you grow up wanting to leave, is the place you yearn to return when growing old. And home for Andrew Berggren and Mike Scott isn't the waft of apple pie in mom's kitchen as much as a deep breath inside the venerable fieldhouse adjacent to the football field at Fitch High School.
"It's the smell of this place," Scott was saying Monday. "Like I never left."
"Identical," Berggren said. "I came back last season during recruiting (as a college coach) and as soon as I walked in, it felt like nothing changed. Except the old couches aren't here. Awesome."
It's not everywhere that a fieldhouse, which looked Monday with chairs strewn and dirt on the floor like it was decorated in early train wreck, offers such a lure. But the memories inside have always burned inside for Berggren and Scott, a pair of Fitch graduates from the glory days who have returned to coach with their mentor, Mike Emery.
They've been part of a playoff season in 2012 that marches on tonight, when the seventh-seeded Falcons play at No. 2 Windsor in the state Class L quarterfinals.
Scott graduated in 2000 and played on the 1999 state championship team, Emery's first at Fitch. Berggren graduated a year later and was part of the 2000 team that earned the state's No. 1 ranking.
"The thing I've noticed the most is how much they've matured," Emery said. "The way they look at life. When you see somebody every day, you don't really notice how they've grown. You lose contact with someone for 10 years and then you're with them every day coaching again, you see how much they've changed. It's like being thrust into a family, sometimes tighter than family, in some ways."
Scott graduated from Sacred Heart University and coached there before teaching social studies and coaching football in Pembroke Pines, Fla. He returned to the region last year to be near his family, working at Valley Regional in Deep River. Now he's part of his football family, too, coaching defensive backs.
Emery occasionally reminds his spry, high school players that Scott is a man of 30 now and shouldn't be torching them on pass patterns.
"If I coached anywhere, it would be here. Not anywhere else," Scott said. "Just coming back here felt right. I grew up watching players when I was younger, the '93 and '94 teams. Even as a little kid, I always wanted to be a part of something I knew was bigger."
Berggren, 29, graduated from Villanova in 2005, later becoming a graduate assistant there. He left for Wagner College, where left spent seven seasons before leaving in July.
"The lifestyle of college coaching was getting a little much for me," he said. "The ability to change my career was becoming a smaller and smaller window. I want to pursue law school."
Berggren, one of the great linemen in Fitch history, resigned from Wagner in July and immediately called Emery. So now while he applies to law school, he coaches and substitute teaches at his alma mater.
"If coach Emery wasn't here, I wouldn't have thought about coming back," Berggren said. "It's the identity of the program. I owe him immensely. The same with the kids. We graduated during the height of the great run here. When I think back of how much coach Emery and coach (Mike) Campbell taught me, the least I could do was help out. I wouldn't feel that way if it was someone else coaching. It would be someone else's program."