Sun Devils Flee Desert Heat For Tontozona

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Arizona State University's annual preseason gridiron stay at scenic Camp Tontozona tips off Aug. 15. The camp is located 17 miles east of Payson near Kohl's Ranch.

The Devils have trained in the unique mountain setting since legendary Hall of Fame coach Frank Kush first began taking his teams there in 1960.

Kush, a frequent visitor to the Rim country, spearheaded the move to turn the retreat into a camp where his team could prepare for the season.

Kush says he got the idea for the camp from his high school days in Pennsylvania. His prep team often retreated from the confines of his hometown to train at a remote camp site.

The former Sun Devil coach often said that Tontozona was an ideal training ground in that it provided a site where players could focus on football far away from the distractions of the Tempe campus.

Camp Tontozona's name was derived from the Tonto National Forest, which it borders, and the last letters of Arizona.

Longtime visitors to the camp will remember that a nearby mountain was once dubbed "Mount Kush" by ASU football players. Punishment for players who erred during the practice sessions was to make the grueling climb from the camp to the top of Mount Kush.

There are plenty of tales still being told about players -- many of them from big cities -- frightfully confronting bears, javelina, skunks and scorpions during camp stays.

The rigors of the camp were often too much to endure for some players. Under Kush, the athletes who threw in the towel had to ring a bell in midcamp to receive a return ride to Tempe. That was often too humiliating, so, some opted to hitchhike back to ASU.

Among the ASU players to have prepped at Tontozona and have gone on to successful professional careers are Danny White (Dallas Cowboys), Shante Carver (Dallas Cowboys), Randall McDaniel (Minnesota Vikings), Mark Malone (Pittsburgh Steelers), John Jefferson (San Diego Chargers), Pat Tillman (Arizona Cardinals), Jake Plummer (Denver Broncos) and Derrick Rodgers (Miami Dolphins).

The schedule

During the Sun Devils' eight days at Camp Tontozona, the team usually practices twice each day.

The exact times have not yet been scheduled, but traditionally they are held about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During the first few days of camp, the players are outfitted in shorts and helmets only.

Once full pads are worn -- on about the fourth day of camp -- the hitting begins.

The Sun Devils visit Payson Aug. 17 for a dip in Taylor Pool. The camp-ending fans' scrimmage is at 10 a.m. Aug. 23 at Tontozona.

In past years, the scrimmage has drawn more than 8,000 fans to the scenic mountain retreat. The early birds are the only ones able to stake claim to prime parking spots. Late arrivals usually must hike up to a mile or more into the camp.

All practice sessions, including the fans' scrimmage are open to the public and free of charge.

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