While Sun Devil Athletic Operations and Facilities (AOF) officials are directing improvements at Camp Tontozona, a local committee chaired by John Stanton is discussing ways to make players, coaches, team followers and the media feel welcome when they visit the school’s famed football training facility for preseason camp Aug. 14 to 18.
Brad Johnson, ASU’s ground facilities manager, has started work on Tontozona’s main practice field that had been mostly neglected since the Sun Devils stopped training at the camp in 2007. In 2008, the Sun Devils visited Tontozona but only for a day to conduct a fans scrimmage.
On the upper practice field, workers are laying down a sub base, installing irrigation and covering with sod.
Later, changes will be made to modernize the camp, equipping it with complete audio and video technology.
The improvements at Tontozona are being paid for by more than $160,000 that was raised during the “Return to Camp T” campaign that was launched on April 19.
By May 31, fans, friends, alumni and former players had donated the money needed to allow first-year coach Todd Graham to take his players to the high mountain camp where ASU trained from 1960 until 2007 when then-coach Dennis Erickson pulled the plug on what was one of Arizona State’s finest traditions.
Graham has said he’s excited to return to Tontozona because it could be exactly what his team needs to build chemistry among players and coaches.
During the “Return to Camp T” fund-raising effort, more than 500 supporters made donations.
The White Mountain Sun Devil Club Alumni Chapter matched all donations after May 2 contributing about $65,000.
The new ASU coach has asked Frank Kush, the legendary coach who first began using Tontozona as a training camp more than 50 years ago, to address the current team when it arrives at Tontozona.
Graham has also said he might restore the tradition of players climbing Mt. Kush, located just south of the football field.
But the grueling climb will probably not be intended as extra training and conditioning for misdeeds as Kush did. But rather the new coach hopes to use the climbs to rekindle tradition and build camaraderie among players.
Erickson’s decision to abandon Tontozona five years ago in favor of practicing in the Dickey Dome on the ASU campus rankled Sun Devil fans and former players who never forgave him for the decision.
Among those former Sun Devils stars most vociferous about abandoning Tontozona was Rob Peterson, a member of ASU’s 1975 team that finished 12-0 and beat Nebraska 17-14 in the Fiesta Bowl. For Peterson, leaving Tontozona was foolish because it was a camp where winners were molded.
“Yes, boys went to Camp Tontozona but they came out men,” he recalls. “We practiced three times a day, full pads, full contact in the morning, shorts and shirts right after lunch and full pads in the afternoon.
“There were sprints and gassers until you puked.”
“At night we laughed, cried and nursed each other’s wounds.”
The highlight of the upcoming camp will be a fans scrimmage slated for the final day.