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HAMMOCK: Falcons continue to show love to Gwinnett

Sports Editor Will Hammock 

Sports Editor Will Hammock 

Falcons continue to show love to Gwinnett

For folks passing by on I-85 for years, the Falcon Inn was a milestone. It was for people like me, who grew up in Gwinnett.

Back then, my friends called the Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road exit off I-85 the "Falcon Inn Exit" instead of by its road name or exit number. Everyone knew the Atlanta Falcons trained here in Gwinnett and for that reason, the NFL franchise was even more of a hometown team.

That's why it hurt so much when the Falcons flocked north from Suwanee to a new Flowery Branch facility in 2001, but it's become clear in recent years that the Falcons still have a pretty big footprint in Gwinnett --the stretch of land they travel through from their Hall County home to the Georgia Dome for games.

Just like the old days, a large chunk of the Falcons' personnel still calls Gwinnett home. You may find head coach Mike Smith during a round of golf at The River Club. Or you may find Matt Ryan at a Peachtree Ridge basketball game. The current roster includes three former Gwinnett high school standouts: Parkview's Michael Palmer, Central Gwinnett's Jonathan Massaquoi and Brookwood's Dawson Zimmerman.

The club itself still does plenty of outreach in Gwinnett, most notably with its Friday Night Lights franchise, a free scrimmage that offers the fans an up-close look at the team. The first four Friday Night Lights events were in Gwinnett --at Mill Creek, Brookwood, North Gwinnett and Norcross --and it returns to the county for a fifth straight year on Friday, when Peachtree Ridge hosts the showcase.

Falcons fans who haven't been to a Friday Night Lights are missing out.

It's a great opportunity to watch a scrimmage where several key players wear microphones, and the players stick around to sign autographs, but it's quite an event outside of the football. There are inflatable games for kids, sponsor booths and a post-game fireworks display. Did I mention it's free?

Gates open at 6 p.m. and the scrimmage begins at 6:45, and it doesn't take long to fill up the stadium. All four previous events have been packed with fans, and this one shouldn't be any different as Gwinnett shows that it still loves the Falcons.

The NFL team, more than a decade removed from training in Suwanee, continues to show it loves Gwinnett, too.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.