Camp Tontozona has long afforded Rim Country football fans the opportunity to rub elbows with collegiate football players that would go on to become National Football League stars.
Danny White (Cowboys), Terrell Suggs (Ravens), Jake Plummer (Cardinals, Broncos), Mike Hayes (Patriots, Raiders), Randall McDaniel (Vikings, Buccaneers) and Adam Archuleta (Rams, Redskins and Bears) are just few of the ASU players that trained at Tontozona and went on to standout professional careers.
As popular as those athletes were among Tontozona spectators, Pat Tillman’s obvious heart and desire made him a huge fan favorite.
At Tontozona, Tillman was readily accessible to spectators often taking time during water breaks or after practice to chat with onlookers, especially children.
His story is well known — after leaving ASU, he played in the NFL before giving up a lucrative professional football contract with the Cardinals to join the U.S. Army. He served several tours in combat before being killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
Today, he is remembered as an American hero.
Those who had the opportunity to meet Tillman at Tontozona, if only for a few seconds, most likely cherish those memories.
Of course, visitors to Tontozona cannot predict which players will go on to become legitimate pro stars.
Some Sun Devil players train at the scenic mountain camp located east of Payson loaded with NFL potential that never pans out.
Others, like Tillman, who had an undersized frame, don’t at first look to be future pro standouts.
So, picking up and coming professionals while watching practice sessions at Camp T is a hit-and-miss proposition.
Tontozona visitors this year, however, should have the opportunity to preview several Sun Devils who will eventually go on to have pro careers.
The headliner on the roster is returning defensive tackle Will Sutton (#90) who was expected to go pro last year, but decided to return to the ASU lineup for his senior year.
Sutton obviously comes from good genes, his father Mickey played defensive back and punt returner for the Rams, Packers and Bills.
Next season, Sutton is expected to be one of the top interior linemen in the country and with a good season, could become a NFL draft first round pick. In 2012, he was a consensus All-American who won the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award.
All eyes at Tontozona will be on Sutton knowing that in the near future he could be playing on Sundays for the NFL.
Although linebacker Carl Bradford (#52) isn’t getting the ink Sutton is receiving, he could be a sleeper in the making.
Recruited as a fullback out of Norco, Calif. high school, he was switched to linebacker mostly because of the physical, aggressive style.
He’s another player, fans could soon see on Sunday television.
D. J. Foster (#8) is an intriguing sophomore who can play a variety of positions, including running back and slot receiver. Last year he was a Fox Sports Freshman All-American and before his collegiate career ends, he could become a top draft pick.
Predicting junior quarterback Taylor Kelly (#10) can play in the NFL might seem a stretch to some, but the success Colin Kaepernick has had with the San Francisco 49ers last season lends credence to the argument that Kelly can make it in the NFL.
Kaepernick ran the pistol offense during his college years at Nevada, which helped develop him into an NFL signal caller feared for his running as well as his arm.
Kelly reminds fans of Kaepernick and, for that matter, Plummer, who also could both run and throw.
Word on the ASU campus is that coach Todd Graham might run some pistol offense next season, which would showcase Kelly’s multidimensional skills to pro scouts.
If Graham decided to unveil the pistol at Tontozona, spectators might have the opportunity to see if Kelly has the talent be as successful with it as Kaepernick was at Nevada and now is with the 49ers.
In addition to fans possibly seeing at Tontozona some future NFL stars, they also will have the opportunity to view some small town Arizona players they might remember from high school.
On ASU’s roster and expected to go to preseason camp are Chans Cox (Blue Ridge), Daniel Groebner (Blue Ridge), Jordan Henderson (Snowflake) and Matt Reidhead (Snowflake).
Arizona State will hold its annual preseason training at Tontozona Aug. 12 to 17, but specific practice times have not been announced.