Photos: David McGregor . Allyson Adams holds up a photo of first round draft pick Julio Jones during the Atlanta Falcons practice at Norcross High School on Friday night.
NORCROSS — First the lockout, then the weather.
A more-than-capacity crowd oozed in and around Norcross High School’s football stadium Friday night as Atlanta Falcons faithful gathered to get a glimpse of their pro team, hosting what’s become an annual public scrimmage at Gwinnett County high schools.
Because of the practice limitations imposed following the summer’s NFL lockout, this year’s edition of the Falcons’ Friday Night Lights was more like a regular practice than a game. Loud music bumping and a boisterous crowd cheering them on, stars like Matt Ryan and Roddy White got about an hour’s work in before thunderstorms began to roll through.
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Even cut a little short, the experience was still a unique one for Falcons fans. Nine-year-old Aiden Miller and 14-year-old Joey Turkia were glued to a railing right at the 50-yard line for much of the practice.
“It’s so cool,” Miller said, donning his Matt Ryan jersey. “We’re going to get their autographs.”
“It’s awesome,” Turkia said.
Special Falcons-black banners covered every conceivable space on the front of fences and grandstands. A Falcons logo was painted in the middle of the field, the team’s “Rise Up” battle cry sprawled across each end zone.
Norcross residents and visitors made the Falcons feel at home, cries of “There we go Matty!” and brief chants of “Ju-li-o!” — in support of Julio Jones, the wide receiver Atlanta jumped up to take in April’s NFL draft — breaking out throughout the practice session. The mandatory T-shirt cannon made an appearance, and kickers even sent a few souvenirs spiraling into the packed stands.
It was the Falcons’ fourth consecutive trip to a Gwinnett high school, holding scrimmages at North Gwinnett in 2010, Brookwood in 2009 and Mill Creek in 2008.
“I appreciate all the people here in Norcross and the high school, (Norcross coach Keith) Maloof for opening the house up for us,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said to the crowd. “This is just great.”