Scrimmages Allowed Fans To Get Up Close To Asu Players

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In the 1970s, the Arizona State University Sun Devils football team -- then coached by Frank Kush -- wrapped up preseason practices at Camp Tontozona with a game condition scrimmage on the Payson High School football field.

Thousands of ASU fans from around the state showed up for the scrimmages. So did sportswriters and sportscasters from around the nation.

Local service clubs joined in on the excitement by hosting a barbecue and concession booths. PHS football players and other high schoolers from around the state were there to try to pick up a few gridiron tips.

Watching the scrimmages was far different than sitting in the top row of Sun Devil stadium, where the action seems miles away.

Fans could actually position themselves close to the sidelines where they had an up-close and personal view of the Sun Devils. All the grunts, groans and thundering hits that go along with big-time college football were also within earshot.

After the scrimmage, players and coaches hung around long enough to sign autographs and talk one-on-one with fans.

Future pros

The scrimmages allowed fans opportunities to rub elbows with Sun Devils who went on to star in the National Football League.

Among them were Woody Green, Art Malone, John Jefferson, Freddie Williams, Mark Malone, Benny Malone, Steve Holden and Mike Haynes.

My most vivid memory of the scrimmages at PHS was watching a freshman quarterback named Mark Malone strong arm TD passes to a bevy of talented wide receivers that included Jefferson, who became the 14th overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft.

As a rookie member of the San Diego Chargers, Jefferson led the NFL in TD catches.

Mark Malone went on to become a three-year starter at ASU, was named the 1980 Senior Bowl MVP and played eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, becoming the fourth-ranked QB in franchise history with 8,582 yards.

After his playing career, he became a television sportscaster on ESPN.

Mike Haynes, a former defensive back and punt returner for the New England Patriots, was elected to the NFL pro football Hall of Fame in 1997 and is ranked 93rd in Sporting News list of the 100 greatest pro football players.

For unknown reasons, possibly a coaching change at ASU, the scrimmages on Longhorn field were discontinued.

Kush has said holding the scrimmage at PHS was a great tradition and he's sorry to see them discontinued.

For Payson, the scrimmages were popular attractions that infused a good deal of money into the local economy.

Among those who would like to see the Rim Country rebuild its connections with ASU and the football team is Peter Kettner, a former Gila Community College board member.

Kettner recently brainstormed some options, which he agreed to share with the Payson Roundup.

Kettner's ideas:

"Wouldn't it be nice if the town put on some type of event each year -- maybe a barbecue at Rumsey, maybe a picnic at Green Valley -- something to acknowledge that they are here and we welcome them.

"It's usually rodeo week, so maybe there could be an event -- roping or something fun -- that could feature the players.

"Maybe they could do something with the high school team.

"Local restaurants should be able to sponsor an event or two.

"Every year at the Rose Bowl, Lawry's pits the two teams in a steak-eating contest. Maybe we could do something to set up a hamburger-eating competition between the offense and defense.

"Those kids are up there for at least seven or eight nights, and there must be some time they could come into town for a fun night on the town.

"(It) could become a nice tradition where the people of Payson could show their hospitality, and let them know we're glad they're here.

"Maybe the Roundup would be interested in sponsoring something.

"It would be nice if Payson was something more than a town they happen to drive through on their way in and out."

Of course, due to NCAA regulations, there would be hoops to jump through to ensure no violations occurred with a Sun Devil day in Payson.

But, Kettner has some great ideas that could turn into a boon for Payson and the Rim Country.

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