Visitors to Camp Tontozona will notice the Arizona State University retreat has received a facelift.
Almost $1 million in school funds have been spent to upgrade the facility located east of Payson near Kohl's Ranch.
The new features include two cabins, one of which will replace the trailer that formerly housed freshmen recruits in Spartan-like conditions.
In the old trailer, it was an ASU tradition for upperclassmen to play pranks on unsuspecting freshmen. The ploys often included releasing insects, snakes and a variety of wild animals --sually skunks --nto the cramped confines.
In addition to the new cabins at Tontozona, meeting rooms and a second playing field have been added.
According to ASU officials, there are also plans under way to widen the main playing field.
The camp is vastly improved over the one that former Sun Devil coach Frank Kush and a handful of football supporters helped carve out of the mountain in 1960.
Although Arizona State's summer home has changed, it continues to provide the Sun Devils with a pristine, secluded setting for concentration and preparation for the upcoming season.
Senior quarterback Andrew Walter is among those players who enjoys the camp experience.
"I'm excited. It should be fun," he said at Sun Devil Media day in Tempe. "There is always fun stuff that happens in camp."
The highlight of the Sun Devils current stay at Tontozona, which began Wednesday, will be the annual fans scrimmage slated for 3 p.m. Aug. 20.
Traditionally, thousands of ASU fans make the trek up the Beeline each summer for a sneak peak at the football team.
In the Sun Devil glory years of Jake Plummer and the 1997 Rose Bowl team, the scrimmage drew on overflow crowd estimated at more than 10,000 fans.
The Sun Devils, however, have fallen on hard times under coach Dirk Koetter and fan support has dwindled.
In spite of last year's skid in which a once promising team finished 5-7, ASU officials are expecting a good-sized crowd for the camp-ending scrimmage.
A scrimmage also will be at 8:35 a.m. Sunday. Two-a-day practices for the Sun Devils began yesterday (Thursday) and will continue until the Aug. 20 scrimmage.
Weekday sessions, which are open to the public free-of-charge usually begin at 8:35 a.m. and wrap up about 11:15 a.m. Afternoon practices are at 3:50 p.m. except for Friday when a walk-through begins at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 19, a walk-through is slated for 3:30 p.m.
In case of rain-outs, practices will be moved to Rumsey Park.
Can Devils turn it around?
At Tontozona, Koetter will attempt to reverse the fortunes of a team that in the last six years is just 34-38 including three bowl losses.
The key to any success the team has will hinge on the throwing arm of Walter who has already finished his degree at ASU.
Last year, he was a pre-season Heisman candidate. Hobbled by an ankle injury and without a go-to receiver in the line-up, he still had a good year throwing for 3,044 yards while completing 52.5 percent of his passes.
Some are predicting that Walter could be one of the nation's best signal callers this season.
The big change football purists will notice at Tontozona is the Sun Devils have switched to a 4-3 defense from the porous 4-2-5 that last year gave up 27.2 ppg.
The key to the defense will depend on the three linebackers and how they respond to what the offense throws at them. Jamar Williams and Justin Burks could get the starting nod at two of the backer slots. The third is up for grabs.
Senior safety Ricardo Stewart also will play an important role in the defense.
"We expect to get a lot of turnovers and out-hit the offense all practice and help make them better and they will make us better," Stewart said prior to leaving for camp.
His goal at Tontozona, he said, "is to come out of camp with the urgency to win and that's what it comes down to."
The Sun Devils open the season at 7 p.m. Sept. 2 in Tempe against UTEP.