Watch Asu Sun Devils, Cardinals Practice

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Unique gridiron opportunities abound nearby for Rim Country football fans.

Because of Payson's location in central Arizona, pigskin faithful can drive just over an hour to Flagstaff to take in the Arizona Cardinals or travel about 20 minutes to Camp Tontozona near Kohl's Ranch to watch the Arizona State University Sun Devils.

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Junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter will lead the ASU Sun Devil football team to Camp Tontozona where preparations for the 2007 season will begin.

Both sites, Flagstaff and Camp Tontozona, are among the most scenic and unique in professional and college football.

In Flagstaff, the Cardinals practice on two ponderosa pine tree-lined fields East of Walkup Skydome, off San Francisco Street. The Cards arrived in Flagstaff July 30 and will remain there until Aug. 23.

The picturesque surroundings, coupled with the 7,000-foot cool mountain air, provide an ideal setting to watch football.

Because of about a thousand fans from around the state taking in weekend practices, people watching has also become a popular pastime.

Following practices, many fans adjourn to one of the city's neighborhood watering holes, where they spew superlatives about their favorite players and loudly wonder whether this is really the year the Cardinals will be a playoff team.

If it rains in Flagstaff, practices are moved into the Walkup Skydome, which is an engineering marvel, mostly because it is the second largest clear-span lumber dome in the world.

The arena floor features 97,000 square feet of space and an artificial surface playing field.

A prime opportunity to see the team up close, personal and free is during a practice set for tomorrow, Saturday, from 11:35 a.m to 1:35 p.m.

Practice times can change and Cardinal brass are advising fans to check for updates at www.azcardinals. com or (602) 379-1714.

The Cards kick off the preseason at 7 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Oakland Raiders.

Changes at Tontozona

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An ASU reserve quarterback takes a snap from center and prepares to run a play during a 2006 scrimmage.

Fans, who have not visited Tontozona since renovations were completed two years ago, will be in for a pleasant surprise.

New features include two cabins, one of which replaced 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 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 coming season.

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 minutes' walk away.

The ASU team, under the direction of new coach Dennis Erickson, arrives at Camp Tontozona Aug. 8 and will remain there until Aug. 15. Among the best opportunities to see the Sun Devils in action will be a scrimmage set for 11 a.m. Aug. 11.

Those who plan to attend should wear their most comfortable walking shoes. Parking at the camp is limited and most fans must park alongside Highway 260 where they begin the downhill trek into the scenic camp.

The Sun Devils open the season Sept. 1 against San Jose State.

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