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Fans hopes soaring as Falcons open practice
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Jim Barnum takes grandson Jacob’s photo Thursday afternoon inside the Atlanta Falcon’s Flowery Branch training complex on the first day of training camp. Jacob, 6, is from Brooksville, Fla., and his grandfather from Fort Myers. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Falcons training camp
When: Practices open to public through Aug. 11. For daily schedules, visit atlantafalcons.com
Where: Falcons Complex, Flowery Branch
Key dates: Preseason opener vs. Bengals, Aug. 8; season opener at Saints Sept. 8

Kia Motors Friday Night Lights
What: Atlanta Falcons preseason scrimmage, along with a fan fest, interactive inflatable games, autograph session, fireworks
When: Gates open at 6 p.m.; 6:45 p.m. Aug. 2
Where: Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park Stadium, Gainesville
How much: Free
More info: atlantafalcons.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — This wasn’t the first time Boston Kersh had been to an Atlanta Falcons practice.

Boston, 7, always tries to support his favorite team and favorite player, wide receiver Julio Jones.

“It is just fun to watch them because I just love football,” Boston said, wearing his Jones replica jersey.

Boston wasn’t the only fan showing Falcons fandom on Thursday, Atlanta’s first day of the 2013 training camp. A few thousand fans braved hot temperatures to take in Day One of training camp in Flowery Branch, including Boston and friend Grayson Higgins.

Fans piled into the Falcons’ training facility an hour before the team took the field, maneuvering through crowds to get the best spots on the hill near one of the three outdoor practice fields.

Once practice started, fans were as spirited as they come. They cheered during parts of practice they approved of — such as Jones beating a defender into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown during 7-on-7 drills — and even let out a few boos during other parts.

But, no matter what, the fans were there to support their beloved Falcons.

The fans’ enthusiasm was appreciated, but it will likely be even more appreciated as the team progresses through camp, said head coach Mike Smith.

“I think (it was appreciated), not necessarily on the first day, more on the fourth, fifth and sixth days,” said Smith, entering his sixth season as the Falcons’ head coach. “I think it is going to help the attitude of the guys. That is the days when they say we get into the dog days and it is a little bit tougher to get into bed, it is a little bit tougher to stay focused.

“When you have the fans that are here, cheering you on, it makes it easier.”

One of the benefits of attending training camp practices is increased access for fans, who are often seeking multiple autographs from some of the team’s top players.

For young fans, like Boston, the experience of attending training camp allows them to meet some of their sports heroes, as many players stay after practice to sign autographs for hundreds of fans.

“It is fun for them,” said Boston’s mother, Jennifer. “They love coming out here. It is all about getting autographs for them. But it is fun to come out here.”

News of quarterback Matt Ryan’s five-year contract extension was a widely discussed topic throughout the crowd of onlookers during the two-hour-plus practice.

“I’m expecting great things from him,” said Cedric Curtis, an Atlanta native and avid Falcons fan. “Let’s see what we can do.”

With temperatures in the mid-80s, staying hydrated and cool was a must for some fans. Emergency personnel attended to fans who felt light-headed.

“We knew we were going to be hot, but the weather wasn’t going to be a factor,” Curtis said, while wearing his Falcons uniform and sporting a wet towel over his head to stay cool.

“We are doing what we have to do to stay cool and enjoy the atmosphere.”

Thursday’s practice was one of 15 that will be open to the general public this training camp. Today’s practice is also open. Gates open at 2:30 p.m., one hour prior to the start of practice.

While attending training camp, fans can purchase memorabilia from an authorized tent inside the training facility. Parking is available across the street, inside the Hog Mountain Sports Complex.

The Falcons open the preseason Aug. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Georgia Dome.

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