Devil's disciples from around the state are primed to descend upon the Rim country beginning Aug. 8, when Arizona State University's Sun Devil football team will begin preseason training.
Since the Frank Kush coached-Devils first began practicing at Camp Tontozona in 1960, the annual training camp has provided fans the opportunity for free, upclose previews of the ASU team. The camp also provides a unique setting for players to concentrate while escaping Tempe's late-summer oven.
The annual highlight of the camp is the traditional fan scrimmage that has drawn upwards of 5,000 spectators to the cool mountain retreat located northeast of Payson.
This year, the fans scrimmage will kick off at 10 a.m. Aug. 19 and last for about two hours.
Immediately after the session, the 105 players and 10-member coaching staff will board buses and return to the Tempe campus to begin preparations for an Aug. 31 season-opening clash against San Diego State. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
During the Devils 11-day stay at Tontozona, the practice schedule usually includes two-a-day sessions at 8:45 a.m. and 4:05 p.m.
Until Aug. 12, the team will practice without pads but that doesn't mean the sessions won't be both hard hitting and spirited. Even without pads, the players especially those eager to impress coaches put teeth-rattling knocks on one another.
On the day the team dons full pads, Aug. 12, a walk-through practice will only be held in the morning session. There will be no practices Aug. 14.
ASU coaches warn that practice times are subject to change and fans should call ahead (480-965-3429) before scheduling a visit to the camp.
One of the side attractions the camp has always afforded fans is the opportunity to watch budding professional stars in action. Some of the players at Tontozona who have gone on to fame in the NFL include Jake Plummer, Mario Bates, Art Malone, Danny White, John Jefferson, Curley Culp and others.
If fans are to receive a glimpse of any future professional players at this year's Camp Tontozona stay, it might be Todd Heap. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 230-pound tight end was one of the most talented receivers in the Pacific 10 Conference last year.
Some observers have labeled him a "can't miss" professional prospect.
A 1998 graduate of Mesa Mountain View High School, Heap was a prep star in both football and basketball.
At the conclusion of last football season, Heap received permission from ASU coach Bruce Snyder to play basketball and went on to become a valuable reserve on the Sun Devil hoop squad.
Another athlete ASU fans will want to keep their eye on at Tontozona is senior quarterback Ryan Kealy. Once projected to be ASU's next Jake Plummer, Kealy has been hampered by knee injuries his entire career.
Last season, he suffered yet another ACL injury that was first thought to be career-ending. But after months of rehabilitation and missing spring practice, Kealy is back in the fold and will be battling for the starting signal caller position. If his knees can hold up, his "take-charge" attitude and throwing accuracy help make the Devils a legitimate PAC title threat.
If there is a local favorite on the Sun Devil roster, it might be strong safety Willie Daniel.
The graduate of Phoenix St. Mary's High School has been a visitor to Payson's Copper State Jam youth basketball tournament where he was extremely popular with many local youngsters eager to learn more about life as a collegiate football player. Daniel is projected to be an NFL prospect.
To reach Camp Tontozona follow Highway 260 to Kohl's Ranch. After crossing the Tonto Creek bridge, turn into the camp one mile past the fire station turnoff on the right side of the road. A private parking lot is approximately 300 yards from the gate.
The walk to the football field is a short hike down the hill.
Fans are warned not to enter the camp on the road at the fire station, which is for residents only and there is no parking. More than a few Sun Devil football faithful have drawn the wrath of the locals by trying to park along the road.