The cool pines of Payson are an amazing getaway for Valley residents in August when the mercury reaches into the upper reaches of 110+ degrees for days on end. The Sun Devil football team returned to Camp Tontozona earlier this week for some time away from the heat, cell phones and all other modern distractions.
A week to focus on team building and bonding that has been a tradition since 1960 when legendary Frank Kush was at the helm. Save for a brief stretch during the Dennis Erickson era, the Tontozona practices have always signaled the beginning of a new football season for Arizona State University.
The team arrived on Tuesday night and got settled into their bunks and prepared for a return to the hallowed practice grounds on Wednesday morning, but Mother Nature had another idea. The team had to move to a nearby turf field due to the rain and head coach Todd Graham was the first to admit that it felt a little off.
“It’s a little bit different starting out here, but I like it,” he said. “It’s a great surface to practice on, so if it rains, we’ll come down here.”
The biggest question surrounding the program and the only thing that people seem to be interested in is the quarterback situation. This year’s stable conssists 0f four highly sought after signal-callers but the worry on most people’s minds is that there is a total of zero combined games played by the group…zero. Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins seems to be the leader but redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins are hot on his heels with true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole proving to be just as capable as the others.
Aside from the field generals, another area for deep concern is the Sun Devil secondary. Last year’s group was abysmal giving up an NCAA-worst 337.8 passing yards per game. No lead was ever safe when it came to the Sun Devil defense including the embarrassing post-season performance against the University of West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl. In front of a home crowd in neighboring Phoenix, the Sun Devil secondary allowed a record-breaking 532 yards in the air and five passing touchdowns.
Defensive backs coach TJ Rushing knows that he has his work cut out for him this year and into the future. his main focus will be on deep coverage and worked on deep plays for a good portion of the time at camp.
Saturday’s final practice and scrimmage is the pinnacle for the week when droves of Sun Devil faithful head up the mountain making the small area a logistical nightmare. I have memories of driving around for what seemed like forever, looking for a parking spot. Once that was achieved, we had a good 20-30 minute walk ahead of us before arriving to the practice field.
Given these difficulties, the alumni association and other student groups have chartered buses to get the most people there with the fewest amount of vehicles clogging up the works. If you are planning to go, plan to leave early and follow these simple steps courtesy of 12News.com:
- Parking for the general public for Saturday, Aug. 6 will be in a closed section on the eastbound side of SR260 near Camp Tontozona Road. Please follow the message boards, speed limit, and event parking signs on SR260 to the designated event parking areas.
- Coming from Phoenix/Payson, please keep right on SR 260 once you leave Star Valley. As drivers approach mile marker 267 they should merge to the right and proceed through the traffic restrictions and follow signs to the designated event parking area.
- Coming westbound on SR 260 from point’s east, drivers will be asked to turn left at Kohl’s Ranch Rd. Gila County Sherriff’s will assist with traffic turning across SR 260. Please follow the signs and DO NOT use Christopher Creek Rd. or Spring Creek Rd.
- There will be a limited number of shuttle carts on Camp Tontozona Rd. for limited mobility and disabled guests who may need assistance. Due to the expected large crowd and high volume of traffic, the shuttle service could potentially have a long wait. Fans should prepare for a long walk into Camp Tontozona from the parking areas.
Camp Tontozona is a beautiful place and a great tradition for fans of Arizona State football. The scrimmage is fun to watch and there is a great family atmosphere and vibe going on. However, after being only a couple times, I find it difficult to justify a return trip especially since I have lived in Tucson for the past nine years.
If you have never been, it’s a must-see, but plan accordingly.