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Falcons return to Gwinnett

For the first time since leaving Suwanee as their training camp home in 1998, the Atlanta Falcons are returning to Gwinnett County - for one night anyway.

The team will conduct the first of two events as part of its "All-Access Weekend" tonight at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton.

It's being called "Falcons Friday Night Lights," and it is an event similar to the Midtown Touchdown festival the Falcons put on the last two years at and around Grady Stadium and Piedmont Park in midtown Atlanta. The second event is the "Falcons Roam at the Dome" event Saturday at noon at the Georgia Dome. Admission is free to both events.

"We were making plans to do (the Midtown Touchdown) again, but when the city (of Atlanta) put in drought restrictions, it meant we had to find an alternative venue," said Falcons director of event marketing Roddy White - no relation to the team's wide receiver of the same name. "Our new coach Mike Smith had a vision of doing a live scrimmage at a local high school. So, it was perfect timing.

"We actually made a list of (Class) AAAAA high schools that had a natural grass turf (field). And since Gwinnett County is the closest to us that had natural grass turf, Mill Creek kind of fell to us. The folks at Mill Creek have been fantastic hosts. We couldn't ask for people to be any more accommodating than they've been."

Mill Creek football coach Shannon Jarvis is equally excited to have the Falcons come use his program's facilities.

While the Hawks' booster club figures to gain financially by some concession sales, Jarvis said the biggest benefit the program will receive is the exposure to the atmosphere of an NFL event.

"It goes without saying we jumped all over this opportunity," Jarvis said. "From Day 1, this wasn't about money. We're getting things out of this that monetarily, you can't buy. We're getting to partner with an NFL team coming onto our field. And the Falcons have been so great to work with.

"To me, this is a community thing. We're still a (relatively) new community, and this is something for the community to be proud of. The biggest thing is that there will be people coming here who've never been here before - who never even knew there was another exit (off Interstate 85) past the Mall of Georgia."

In fact, there should be plenty of fans from throughout the metro area in attendance, with the 8,000-seat Mill Creek Community Stadium expected to be filled to capacity.

The showcase of the evening - which is free of charge - will be a live scrimmage between the Falcons' offense and defense beginning at 7:30 p.m.

There will also be a 15-minute autograph session with the players following the scrimmage, plus youth activities and games. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display after dark.

Gates to the stadium open at 6 p.m. with entertainment running until the beginning of the scrimmage at 7:30.

SideBar: FOOTBALL

What: Falcons Friday Night Lights

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mill Creek High School, Hoschton

Schedule: The Atlanta Falcons will conduct a live offense vs. defense scrimmage, plus a post-scrimmage autograph session, youth activities and games and fireworks.

Admission: Free

For more information: www.atlantafalcons.com/allaccess