Frank Kush was on hand Wednesday morning to take in ASU’s first practice at Tontozona since former coach Dennis Erickson abandoned the tradition in 2008.
Photo by Max Foster.
Arizona State University’s new athletic director, Steve Patterson, hasn’t been around long enough to reminisce over the former training days at Camp Tontozona. He doesn’t have any stories about legendary coach Frank Kush. And he hasn’t swum in the cool waters just south of the camp, like so many former players and coaches.
But now Patterson is part of a group of coaches and players making new memories at Camp T.
After a five-year hiatus, the Sun Devils rumbled into town last week, holding practices and scrimmages at the woodland camp for five days.
First-year coach Todd Graham and Patterson were instrumental in the school’s return to Rim Country. The pair met with Mayor Kenny Evans for a tour of the facilities in February.
The men found things hadn’t changed much at the camp, to which Kush first started bringing players in the 1960s to escape the summer heat.
The camp maintains a quaint feel, with bunkhouses, mess hall and weak phone reception. That atmosphere, however, is conducive to team bonding.
Players cannot Tweet, Facebook or endlessly text fans, family or friends. They must talk to each other — a novel idea.
Only the playing fields needed revamping.
Through more than 5,000 donations, ASU raised roughly $150,000, enough to redo the upper and lower field, adding new sod and irrigation.
Fans, including former players, alumni and Kush, came out throughout the week to commemorate the players’ return.
More than 5,000 people turned out to witness Saturday’s scrimmage.
“The whole return went great for us,” Patterson said.
The turnout was higher than anyone could remember, he said.
Hired only last year, this was Patterson’s first year at Camp T.
Still, he said he understood the tradition surrounding the camp.
Maintaining that tradition, he said, was important to Graham.
“We are one of the few universities that has a place like that available,” he said. “And it has such a rich history.”
The university stopped coming to the camp when former coach Dennis Erickson took over in 2007.
Patterson said it looks like the practice won’t be ending anytime soon.
The team and coaches want to come back next year.
“Everyone thought it was worthwhile,” he said.
“Tontozona is the kind of place that Todd likes. It is part of his coaching style.”
The Sun Devils kick off the season Thursday against Northern Arizona University.