Camp Tontozona, Arizona State University's scenic mountain retreat nestled in the ponderosa pines 17 miles east of Payson, has been toted by sports officials as one of the most unique university football training camps in the country.
Tontozona -- complete with a lush, expertly groomed football field -- lies in a scenic basin surrounded by towering mountains.
On the camp property, a bubbling spring forms a natural whirlpool. Tonto Creek is just a few a minutes' walk away.
The name, Camp Tontozona -- combining nearby Tonto Creek and Arizona -- was chosen in 1958 after legendary ASU football coach Frank Kush began using the camp for preseason training.
ASU acquired the property seven years before Kush began using it as a football training site, when the Arizona Board of Regents deeded it to Arizona State College at Tempe, now ASU.
Kush spearheaded the move to turn the retreat into a camp where his team could prepare for the rigors of the coming season.
Kush said he got the idea for the camp from his high school days in Pennsylvania. His prep team often retreated from the friendly confines of his home town to train at a remote camp site.
The former Sun Devil coach often said that Tontozona was an ideal training ground because it provided a site where players could focus on football, far away from the distractions of the Tempe campus.
Longtime visitors to the camp will remember a nearby mountain once dubbed Mt. Kush by ASU football players.
Players who erred during practice sessions were forced to undertake the grueling climb from the camp to the top of Mt. Kush.
The rigors of the camp were often too much to endure for some players.
Under Kush, athletes who threw in the towel had to ring a bell in mid-camp to get a ride back to Tempe.
That was too humiliating for some, so they hitchhiked to Payson and south on the Beeline back to the ASU campus.
Former Payson High School football coach Dan Dunn, now the athletic director at Mesa Community College, was one of Kush's players. He spins many tales about his stays at the camp while playing for Kush in the early 1960s.
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 (Arizona Cardinals) and Derrick Rodgers (Miami Dolphins) are a few of the professional players who trained at Camp Tontozona.
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