An NCAA Division 1 team that last summer honed its gridiron skills under the watchful eye of Rim Country fans at Rumsey Park and Camp Tontozona will be on the national stage this evening.
The Arizona State University Sun Devils (6-5) take on Rutgers (7-4) in the Insight Bowl, to be played at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The game will be televised nationally beginning at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.
For 10 days in August, the Devils conducted training sessions under the majestic ponderosas at Camp Tontozona east of Payson.
When monsoon rains sometimes drenched the Tontozona
grass field, the Sun Devils moved their training sessions to Rumsey Park, where an all-weather FieldTurf playing surface remained playable.
The Devils also had several water workouts at Taylor Pool and took in a movie at Sawmill Theatres.
For a Payson youth football team, watching the Devils in action during the Insight Bowl might rekindle some fond memories.
During Aug. 12 ASU's afternoon practice at Rumsey Park; the Payson Buccaneers youth football team took a break from its own session -- also going on in Rumsey -- to watch the Devils.
When the pint-sized players asked for autographs and to meet the players, ASU coach Dirk Koetter lightheartedly responded by asking the youngsters if they would like to scrimmage his Sun Devils.
According to Bucs assistant coach Mike Loutzenheiser, the wide-eyed youngsters said they'd love to.
The Bucs players told Koetter they'd play defense against the Sun Devils' offense.
Excitedly, the two teams lined up against one another -- it was 300-pound behemoths against 80-pound youngsters.
Loutzenheiser tells the story, "ASU lined their first-string offense up against our first-team defense. The ball was marked at the 3-yard line and the first play was a dive, which the Payson Bucs stopped at the 1-yard line. The next play, ASU ran a sweep that Travis Bix blew-up for a 3-yard loss. On third and goal ASU attempted a pass that was intercepted by Dallas Haught. The Payson Bucs held ASU from scoring.
"After that play the ASU players surrounded our kids and led them in a team chant. Many of our players were picked-up, high-fived and congratulated by the ASU players. My son, Troy received a wristband from defensive back Keno Walter-White who was also coaching him up during the plays against ASU's offense.
"It was a great night for the kids, for ASU football and for some of us dads who just happen to be ASU alumni."
Koetter later quipped his team was 0-1 against the Payson kids.
The coach also told onlookers the exchange between the group of young kids and university football players was a great experience for both teams.