Local News

June 22, 2012

Falcons, Titans to practice at Coahulla Creek

Coahulla Creek High School junior Michael Ward said his football coaches teased at something big coming to the school in August. But the secret was kept.

Now Ward knows what it is.

The Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans will hold a joint practice on Monday, Aug. 6, at Coahulla Creek. There will be a walk-through from 11:10 to 11:55 a.m., which will be closed to the public, and a practice session for fans to watch from 4:30 to 7:15 p.m. The event will be free.

The announcement was made Thursday after the Falcons released their training camp schedule, which begins July 26.

Why are the Falcons and Titans coming here? Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Danny Hayes and Falcons head coach Mike Smith coached together at Tennessee Tech University in the 1980s. Smith served as the defensive line coach, while Hayes was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

“Mike Smith called me about two months ago and asked if we would be interested in hosting,” Hayes said. “He always liked to give back to people who were part of his success, and he wanted to give me an opportunity to host it.”

Coahulla Creek is the newest of four high schools in Whitfield County and will begin its second school year in August. The school’s principal, Phillip Brown, said getting the two NFL teams to come here is evidence the school system is “positioning Coahulla Creek very well,” while also trusting school officials to handle the anticipated big crowd. Hayes said he was told there will likely be anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 fans at the practice.

“With the Titans and Falcons coming there will be a lot of work, but for the community the rewards will be huge,” Brown said. “I think it’s going to be tight. Not having done this before, we’re still a little bit in the fuzzy area. But the Falcons and Titans are such good organizations, so they’re already helping us. And we’ve had a lot of people already calling today and asking how they can help.”

Hayes said there were meetings set up for officials to view the facilities of Northwest Whitfield High School and Southeast Whitfield High School, but Coahulla Creek became the first and final stop.

“We started out where they set up a meeting to come down and look at our facilities and make sure they were up to standards,” Hayes said. “We had scheduled to go down to Northwest and Southeast also, but when they saw that (Coahulla Creek) they said, ‘Hey, this works for us.’

“We never left there. They’ve done enough of these types of events where they know what they want and they said, ‘This is ideal.’”

Brown said one of the big reasons Coahulla Creek was chosen is because of the space available.

“I think they liked the fact that you had the facilities of two identical locker rooms and had enough space for two teams,” he said. “I think they also liked the fact it is a new school. I think that spoke to them also.”

Ward, a wide receiver for the Colts, was on the lookout for “something big.”

“I heard from one of our coaches that there was something big coming to Coahulla in August, but he wouldn’t tell us what it was,” Ward said. “He said it would be the biggest thing coming around here yet.”

A Falcons fan, Ward previously had season tickets and likes watching the team’s two wide receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones.

“I’m just a junior in high school and most juniors in high school don’t get pro football teams come practice at their school,” he said. “If I could talk to them and get some pointers, that would be really good.”

Levi Wilson, a junior safety/wide receiver for the Colts, named Jones as his favorite Falcon. But Wilson’s excitement mostly stems from one day being able to say he has played on the same field as NFL stars.

“I heard it from a friend about two weeks ago,” Wilson said. “They said people had been talking about it. I said, ‘All right.’ If it’s really going to happen then I could say I had played on the same field as NFL players. That would be pretty cool.”

Ernie Dempsey, a counselor at Morris Innovative High School and the school’s boys soccer coach, has had Falcons tickets for the past decade. He’s hoping the Coahulla Creek visit will give him the chance to attend a practice for the first time, believing it will offer a great chance to see the technical work that goes into preparing for an NFL season — the kind of inside information that keeps his ears glued to sports talk radio.

And he believes those who attend will have a new understanding of the pro game, too.

“When you sit (close to the field), you get a real appreciation for how fast and violent the game is at the pro level,” Dempsey said. “So when you see a practice, I imagine you get a little taste of that. And especially for people around here, who see mostly high school football — and some go to college games — but once you get to that pro level, there’s some sort of crazy jump in the speed and the strength. I think people will enjoy getting to see how elite these guys really are — even the ones that get cut.”

Manny David, owner of the Junk Man’s Son salvage business, has been a Falcons season ticket holder for 45 years. He once missed a preseason contest because “the interstate was blocked,” but hasn’t missed another game, he said. However, with the Falcons training camp most recently in Flowery Branch, David hasn’t seen the Falcons outside of competition.

“I’ve always wanted to go down to a practice, but work always makes it hard to do that,” he said. “I think it’s very good (the practice being here) and I think there’s a strong Falcons presence in Dalton. ... I think it’s terrific, really. It gives the people in the area (an idea) how big these guys really are.

“And the Titans have a following from Chattanooga.”

Dalton is 89 miles from Atlanta and 162 miles from Nashville.

The Falcons finished 11-5 last season, completing their franchise-record fourth straight winning season, and advanced to the playoffs. Mike Munchak, who is heading into his second year as the Titans’ head coach, replaced longtime coach Jeff Fisher and led the Titans to a 9-7 finish, narrowly missing the AFC playoffs.

“I think it’s just another opportunity for people to come out and watch you play that normally don’t have a chance,” Munchak said on the Titans’ website. “In this part of the country there are Titans fans and Falcons fans. There are people that like both teams, so I think it’s a good thing when you can create that kind of atmosphere where fans can come out, spend an evening watching football and hopefully enjoy what they see.”

The teams have practiced together twice before, in Chattanooga in 1997 and in Nashville in 2004. Hayes said currently there are no plans for them to return to this area a second time but the teams may make a joint practice an annual tradition.

“Mike (Smith) explained to me where he and (Munchak) had talked about it and want to do it on a home-and-home basis,” Hayes said.

He said the details of the practice at Coahulla Creek — parking availability and whether there will be autograph sessions or other fan-oriented activities — are unknown at this point.

“We haven’t gotten all the details,” he said. “We’re waiting on a checklist from them to tell us what we can do and what we can’t do.”

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