After conducting most of their eight-day preseason practice sessions at Rumsey Park, the 22nd nationally ranked Arizona State University Sun Devils eagerly returned Aug. 21 to Camp Tontozona.
Last week's monsoon rains that drenched the camp's practice field sent the Sun Devil football team scurrying to Rumsey Park where the FieldTurf all-weather surface was mostly dry and playable.
Following ASU's return to Tontozona, a scenic mountain retreat located 17 miles east of Payson near Kohl's Ranch, coach Dirk Koetter put the team through three practices in preparation for the annual camp-ending scrimmage Saturday morning.
Although attendance records were not kept, the nearly two-hour scrimmage drew an overflow crowd of Devils disciples for a look at the newest edition of the ASU team. Most of the onlookers were from the Valley, but parents and alumni from as far away as California were on hand.
Fans who arrived late were forced to park along Highway 260 and trudge more than a mile into the camp. The downhill hike into the camp didn't offer most fans a challenge, but the trek out to Highway 260 had exhausted fans gasping for mountain air.
ASU did have shuttle vans on hand but those vehicles appeared reserved for the handicapped or the most well-heeled of Sun Devil supporters.
In front of a crowd that surrounded three sides of the field, the Sun Devils methodically went about tuning up their offense and defense for the ASU's season-opener Sept. 6 against Northern Arizona University.
Most eyes were focused on Heisman Trophy hopeful Andrew Walter who sported a non-contact orange jersey as a result of a lingering vertebra injury he suffered in the Sun Devils' 34-27 Holiday Bowl loss to Kansas State.
The attention Walter attracted was in sharp contrast to last year at Tontozona when he was running second string behind Chad Christensen.
After regaining the starting signal caller spot four games into the season, Walter went on to throw for a school record 3,877 yards. The strong-armed gunslinger also set a PAC-10 record of four 400-yard passing games in one season. His impressive season also included conference records for most pass attempts (483), most completions (274) and most passing yards in a single game (536 vs. Oregon).
Although Walter was the center of media attention, it was freshman quarterback Sam Keller who quickly became the sensation of the camp.
During one stretch of the scrimmage, Keller completed six of 10 passes of 136 yards and three touchdowns.
Following the scrimmage, coaches named Keller the No. 2 quarterback behind Walter.
For football purists, Koetter's post-scrimmage proclamation that "we're going to run the ball better" was a breath of fresh cool, Rim country air.
The knock on the Sun Devils during last season's 8-6 season was that the team lacked a running game to complement its powerful passing attack.
Fans who learned their football in the glory years of former ASU coach Frank Kush hold to the notion that a team unable or unwilling to run the ball is one that lacks the tools to win.
At Tontozona and Rumsey, the coaching staff also spent practice time trying to shore up a defense that last year gave more points per game than California has governor candidates.
With All-American defensive end Terrell Suggs now playing in the NFL, the Sun Devils lineup has plenty of big holes to plug. If there is a player in the ASU defense that has the potential to become another Pat Tillman or Adam Archeleta, it could be strong safety Brett Hudson.
Armed with ample speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash) and size (6-feet, 2-inches and 225 pounds), Hudson proved that he has the potential to someday play on Sundays.
Following Saturday's scrimmage, the players headed back to ASU, where classes began on Monday.
Today (Tuesday), daily practices begin at Kajikawa Practice Field.