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New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown on fourth down against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD

Keith Maloof's telephone rings a little more often than usual these days.

That's to be expected, though, when you were the high school coach of the most talked-about rookie in the NFL this season.

Those interview requests for Maloof picked up even more this week as Saints first-year sensation Alvin Kamara returns home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

It'll be Kamara's first game in his hometown in five years.

The last time he played there was in the now-demolished Georgia Dome, right next to Atlanta's sparkling new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Kamara will play Thursday.

It was the final game of Kamara's high school career.

He rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown that night and also caught three passes for 67 yards, including a momentum-swinging 61-yard touchdown reception.

"He caught a pass out of the backfield and ran it right down the sidelines past everybody, just like he's doing now for the Saints," Maloof said.

The play helped Norcross High to a 21-14 victory over Lovejoy, giving the Blue Devils the Class AAAAAA state championship — the first title in school history.

Oh, and a note to Sean Payton: If you're looking for another play to add to the playbook, Kamara also completed a 34-yard pass in the championship game.

Is Maloof surprised by Kamara's success?

"I am, and then I'm not," Maloof said. "We all knew he had it in him, but a lot of kids you coach have the ability and never get to to that point to prove themselves. But Alvin, from the time we had him, was a great player. He was a true leader and one of those guys you put your whole team on his shoulder."

While the Saints haven't put the whole team on Kamara's shoulder, they have sure let him carry his share of the load. Through 12 games, Kamara rushed for 606 yards to go with his 614 yards receiving and team-best 11 touchdowns. The NFL could save some time now and send him his Rookie of the Year trophy. 

In the process, Kamara has captured plenty of buzz nationally while also becoming one of the most beloved figures in his new hometown, New Orleans.

The cheers for Kamara during pregame player introductions Sunday against the Panthers were the loudest for any player on the team.

The following night, he got a loud ovation when he was shown on the Jumbotron as he attended the Pelicans' game against the Golden State Warriors.

"It's been fun," Kamara said about of newfound fame. "It's one of those things that happened quick. I just have to keep it going. Stay humble."

He will likely experience some of that same love Thursday night.

All of the ticket requests he's received this week serve as a reminder.

He admits he had to ignore some of them.

And the ones he didn't ignore?

"I sent some people the price of the tickets and I'm taking care of the rest," he said.

But Kamara isn't making this game about his homecoming.

He didn't grow up a Falcons fan — or a fan of any team, for that matter — but Kamara knows what the rivalry means.

He also knows how important this game is in the NFC South race. The Saints (9-3) are one game ahead of the Carolina Panthers and two games ahead of the Falcons.

Yeah, it'll be cool to see some friends and family he hasn't seen in a while. And yeah, it'll be nice seeing and playing in the new stadium in his hometown for the first time. But Georgia ain't really on his mind. 

"We have to go handle business," Kamara said. "It's really a business trip. We have to get a win. I hate it for everybody at home, but we've gotta do what we've gotta do."

His high school coach will be one of the people in the building.

Maloof was able to get his hands on sideline passes for the game. Kamara is one of four Norcross High alums in the NFL.

"Nobody at the skill level has done what Alvin has done so far," Maloof said.

And it's why Maloof's phone rings more than usual these days. 

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.