Hall's home fields
In honor of high school football season, The Times continues a series on Hall County's high school football stadiums: Their histories, key memories and what makes them unique. Next week: The Brickyard at North Hall High School. Fans who would like to share their memories can email Dallas Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Football at the Branch rose up from very humble beginnings.
Flowery Branch High School's Falcon Field was originally part of the old school that was occupied from 2002 to 2008.
"The old Falcon Field, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears. That field experienced a 0-10 season, a 2-8 season, a 4-6 season. Then we went 11-2," said Falcons Head Coach Lee Shaw. "That was the beginning."
After the 2005 season, the Falcons turned their program around. Every year since, they made it to some round of the state playoffs.
"By the time our initial ninth-grade class became seniors we felt like we could compete and do well in our region. We did and made it to the third round and a trip to Albany where we were eliminated by Dougherty, a very fine team that year, in Class-AAA," Athletic Director Shannon Benton said in an email to The Times. "We have never looked back."
The 2005 season ended with a loss to the Dougherty Trojans in the Class-AAA quarterfinals. The Falcons got to the first round of playoffs again but lost to the Chamblee Bulldogs. They made it to the second round twice, once in 2006 against the Henry W. Grady Knights and again in 2010, after Flowery Branch went to Class-AAAA, losing to the Carlton J. Kell Longhorns.
The 2009 season took the Falcons to the state semifinals against Gainesville's Red Elephants, but it was the 2008 season that left a bitter taste in the team's mouth.
That was the year Flowery Branch went all the way — almost. The Falcons lost the Class-AAA state championship 28-14 against the Cairo Syrupmakers.
The atmosphere and experience to be a part of that in the Georgia Dome was "priceless," Benton said.
"We were practicing off of Davis' field out of a truck. To go from that and then going 12-3 and playing for the state championship in the Dome, that's a lot," Shaw said. "It's a tremendous sense of pride now. The guys who're playing now, they've never lost, never had a losing season."
Shaw said the Falcons always pay tribute to those who took the program off and running — his two sons, Jaybo and Conner Shaw, Georgia Tech defensive end Izaan Cross and linebacker Daniel Drummond, University of Alabama-Birmingham quarterback Austin Brown and Duke University punter Will Monday, to name a few.
But he reminds the team to remember the unsung heroes, the ones who played that 0-10 season and refused to give up.
"Our first win was in 2003 against West Hall. We won 20-19. They missed a field goal at the end to win. It hit wide left, I believe," Shaw said.
Shaw also remembers the big 2005 win against the North Hall Trojans and the 2006 defeat of the Gainesville Red Elephants. The 10-9 state playoff win against the Elbert County Blue Devils stands out in his mind, too.
"Going to Columbus and beating them on their field when they were favored to win it all, they had several Division 1 players on that team and our guys and coaches just never gave up," Benton said.
"The last play of the game against West Forsyth when Conner Shaw hooked up with Robbie Boudreau and we won a barn burner — without that win we would not have even made the playoffs. We ended up making it to the semifinals that year."
The team's traditions include running out to the AC/DC song "Thunderstruck" and an air raid siren.
When the original building opened in 2002 off Hog Mountain Road, Principal Mark Coleman had the opportunity to choose the school's mascot and colors. The old Flowery Branch High building was across the street from the Atlanta Falcons' practice field, so the administrator decided to be resourceful.
Benton said the mascot was a "no brainer" compared the jokey alternative.
"(The) Falcons were moving in right beside us," he said. "It was that or Hog Mountain High, Razorbacks."
Another Falcon tradition began that year too.
"When I first got the job, instead of calling us Flowery Branch I came up with a shirt that said, ‘Football at the Branch,'" Shaw said. "It kind of stuck. We've got a huge sign with letters that say that that was on the original field and now it's at the new school."
New or old, Shaw said Falcon Field has an atmosphere that's hard to beat.
"Our fans, even through the rough times, came out and supported us," Shaw said. "At Falcon Field they rock the place. We have an awesome student section. They're talking Monday about what they're going to wear, what the theme is going to be for Friday nights. I'm proud to be a part of that."
Benton said its been that way since the school opened.
"Even in the first couple years the community and parents of our players were very supportive and vocal," he said. "Friday night at ‘THE BRANCH' is an event. Our coaches, student athletes, student body and community have not failed to keep that tradition going."
Benton said Flowery Branch is fortunate to keep a core staff in place to build consistency with the Falcons' program.
"Coach Shaw and his staff are never satisfied with where they are and continue to learn and grow as a staff, so that helps fuel their fire, and they just pass that on to the kids that play for them," he said. "I was always told that if you quit going forward then you are going backwards. I expect we will keep going forward."
Shaw said he sees the Falcons' football program continuing to grow.
"We kind of set a benchmark," Shaw said. "We're still shooting for the elusive state championship. In 10 years I hope we'll have a few."