First Day of Camp Special to Many Fans

The 1,205 fans that gathered in Flowery Branch on Thursday to watch the Falcons in the first practice of 2013 Russell Athletic Training Camp all have one obvious thing in common – they love the Falcons.

Their stories of how they got there, however, are much different.

"I became a Falcons fan in 1985," Brian Walls from New Brockton, Ala., said. "For Christmas, when I was a little boy, I wanted an Alabama football uniform. Well, when I woke up on Christmas Day, it wasn't an Alabama football uniform. It was a red helmet with a bird on it. Santa brought me a Falcons uniform."

Ever since that morning 28 years ago, Walls has "watched the team and gone through the trials and tribulations with them." It's not until this year, however, that he's had the chance of attending his first training camp.

Walls, who made the four-hour trip to Flowery Branch with his wife, Jennifer, and their son, also says 2013 marks an exciting year for another reason.

"I just got season tickets for the first time." he says. "It's been a good year. I had been on the season ticket list and (my wife) put my name in again and we got called on vacation and they told us that if we wanted them they were there for us."

Unlike Walls, who is experiencing season tickets and training camp for the first time, another Falcons fan, James Crawford, is very familiar with the training camp atmosphere.

"I've had season tickets for the Falcons since 2004," says Crawford, a 17-year-old from Kennesaw, Ga. "So nine years. I haven't missed a game in five years. I'm taking my senior pictures in my (Matt Ryan) jersey."

Although Crawford lives in Georgia and is familiar with training camp, he came Thursday with a group of four friends who he convinced to drive 13 hours from Pittsburgh, Pa., to join him for their first training camp.

Crawford's friends — Bo Sansom, Philip Addison, Kermit Lowry and Kenneth Kilpatrick — all say that he's the core and the one who got them all to become Falcons fans.

The group of teenagers stood in line a few spots in front of Walls, both groups ready with their Falcons gear. With the gates opening at 2:30 p.m., the line quickly fills up with fans that begin to arrive about an hour before.

Moving to the front of the line, however, a pair of brothers whose excitement for camp had them arriving just a few hours early.

"We were super excited so we got here at 8 a.m.," says 27-year-old Kevin Wade from Athens, Ga., with his 9-year-old brother, Cole, by his side. "Luckily, then they told us that if we came back earlier than 2:30 they would have something special for us. So when we got here we had an autograph from Julio Jones and an autograph from Matt Ryan."

Josh Robinson, a life-long fan and father of three young boys, also made the trip to have them experience their first training camp.

"They are very excited right now," Robinson said while the boys, aged 9, 8 and 4, excitedly ask when their favorite players are going to come out to the field.

Although you can find children virtually anywhere during practice, above them on the hill where fans sit is a hard-to-miss large group of boys accompanied by Kevin Compton, a middle school teacher at C.W. Davis Middle School.

"They're all football players. They have a passing camp and then they come over after the passing camp is over," he said. "We did that last year so this is our second year coming over."

Regardless of each fan's different story of how they got to Flowery Branch on Thursday or why they came, they all seem to have the same answer as Walls had when asked about the Falcons in general: "I know we're going to win the Super Bowl this year."

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