'Return to Camp T' campaign aims to reclaim football preseason tradition

Sun Devils ask for support in returning to Camp Tontozona for preseason tradition

Sun Devil Athletics has announced a new initiative – spearheaded by ASU head football coach Todd Graham and Steve Patterson, ASU athletics director and vice president for university athletics – that is calling to restore the tradition of hosting Sun Devil Football at Camp Tontozona, near Payson, Ariz., for practice and a scrimmage, beginning this fall.  

"Every player, every coach and many fans begin each season in the tall pines northeast of Payson," said Graham. "Coach Frank Kush had a vision. It worked well then, and it will again. When I visited earlier this year, I saw a lot of potential. But a lot of work needs to be completed in order to make it happen.”

“I love the tradition of college football,” added Graham. “That is one of the reasons I coach at the collegiate level. Camp Tontozona is one of the famous icons in the history of college football. I want to take my first team there because the tradition begins at Tontozona, just like it did in 1960."

See the Camp Tontozona photo gallery

“Camp Tontozona unites Sun Devil football players from every generation and we want to return to that tradition,” said Patterson. “We invite former football players, fans and anyone that believes in Camp T and what it stands for to participate by donating money or services. We need the Sun Devil football family to unite behind this goal.”

The campaign, called “Return to Camp T,” will require fundraising of $150,000 to make the goal of returning to Camp Tontozona this year a reality. If that figure is met by June 1, Sun Devil Football will visit Camp Tontozona from August 14-18, with a scrimmage held on the 18th. If the goal is not met, funds will be applied to returning to Camp Tontozona for the 2013 fall preseason. Any donations that exceed the $150,000 mark will be applied toward the Sun Devil Football program as a whole.

For more details on the campaign, visit thesundevils.com/ot/camp-t

Donors of $100 or more receive a “Return to Camp T” bumper sticker, and $250 or more will earn a “Return to Camp T” T-shirt. Donors of $500 or more will receive a T-shirt and are eligible to go on a turnaround trip to the scrimmage at Camp Tontozona. All donations will go through the Sun Devil Club and are tax-deductible. Those who want to contribute can visit thesundevils.com or contact Kevin Miniefield of The Sun Devil Club at 480-727-6644 or at kevin.miniefield@asu.edu.

Camp Tontozona provides the Sun Devils with a unique setting for concentration and preparation for the new season ahead. The camp began hosting Arizona State football’s preseason practice in 1960 under the direction of head coach Frank Kush and continued through 2008. Set within the cool mountain country of Payson, Ariz., the camp borders the Tonto National Forest, which provides the first two syllables of Tontozona. The state of Arizona offers the last pair.

No conversation about Camp Tontozona would becomplete without mentioning Mount Kush.

“The first thing we did was climb that mountain as a group,” says Kush. “When we got to the top, the rookies sang their high school fight songs. I thought the whole concept started us out with a lot of togetherness.”

“Camp Tontozona was simply about a bonding experience for us, especially as freshmen,” said former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer. “For me, it was my indoctrination to college football. It culminated in a Rose Bowl for us in 1996. It was Camp Tontozona that brought us together.”

If the fundraising goal is reached, the Sun Devil Club will have other opportunities to experience Camp Tontozona, including a turnaround trip, a barbecue and a golf outing. For more information on these events, contact Cori Hewitson in the Sun Devil Club at 480-727-7700.

About The Sun Devil Club: All donations will go through the Sun Devil Club. The Sun Devil Club is a 501(c)3 charitable organization whose mission is to sustain a culture that promotes and protects Arizona State University through Sun Devil Athletics. The Sun Devil Club annually provides Sun Devil Athletics with financial assistance for operating expenses, scholarships, academic support, facility maintenance and more. Additionally, the Sun Devil Club spearheads special fundraising projects, such as “Return to Camp T”, based on the needs of each sport. Contributions to the Sun Devil Club are up to 80 percent tax-deductible.

Quote from Payson Mayor Kenny Evans

"There is a mystical and magical place just minutes east of Payson where legends were born and dreams came true. For nearly half a century, it spawned a winning tradition that reached near mythological proportions.

"Through the years, the financial impact was important to Payson and the surrounding Rim Country. Having ASU hold summer football camp in the cool pines was deeply appreciated not only because of the economic bump received from the many sports fans that would come to the Rim Country, but just as importantly, because of the many who would return to buy homes or businesses in Arizona’s mile-high “Cool Mountain Town."

"For many of us, more important than any financial impact was that Camp Tontozona created a link between our state’s university and the rural communities that too often felt estranged from the metropolitan centers. Even though it is only just over an hour from the Valley, Camp Tontozona put a world-class athletic program in touch with our little piece of rural Arizona and more importantly, gave all of rural Arizona a claim to cheer for a winning program.  Fantasy or folklore, Coach Kush created a winner which should be embraced and supported."

Former Sun Devil player quotes

“Tontozona is the genesis for all the great ASU football teams. The ability to take players from all geographies and ethnicities, and leave behind our former lives, to all come together as brothers and Sun Devils in the mountains east of Payson. ... Tontozona is a very special place.”

– Jeff Van Raaphorst, ASU quarterback (1985-87), 1987 Rose Bowl MVP, Rose Bowl Hall of Fame inductee

“Camp Tontozona was the glue that held us together. That’s where all of the bonding took place. That’s where you got to know each other. It was boot camp, but it created a bond. You go to Camp Tontozona and whether you like it or not, you become brothers.”

– Danny White, ASU quarterback (1971-73), All-American (1973), 1997 NFF College Hall of Fame inductee, NFL Quarterback (1976-88)

“If there was one thing that represented ASU football, something that was a tradition that brought every ASU football player together throughout the course of the decade, Camp Tontozona was that thing. It was that one thing you could look forward to every year, where every single teammate and all of your coaching staff could go up there, get away, bond, and start to build a football program.”

– Adam Archuleta, ASU linebacker (1997-99), two-time First-Team All-Pac-10 (1998-99), NFL safety (2001-08)

“Camp Tontozona was a great experience for me. It was an opportunity for us to first get out of the heat, as it was so hot here for the beginning of the year. But the bonding period was the one part of football that you all need. You come together as a collection of individuals, but it’s the people who come together as a team first who probably have the most success. Those kinds of things are unforgettable, and it’s a great opportunity again for the team to really bond and get together.”

– Eric Allen, ASU cornerback (1983-87), NFL cornerback (1988-2001), six-time Pro Bowl selection, ASU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee

“Camp Tontozona is a great place to bond as a team. You’re up there and there’s nothing but the woods and the field. It’s 100 percent football, and a chance to get to know the new guys coming in, bond with players and even the coaches. I thought it was just a great experience for a team.”

– Mark Tingstad, ASU linebacker (1986-89)

“For me, as a player, I didn’t enjoy it, but stepping away from it, it’s something that you really can’t replicate. The team building, the camaraderie, and everything that goes on there is great, because it’s only you. It’s you and your teammates going through it and fighting through it together. It’s also a part of our tradition that we’ve always done, so it’s one thing I can look at and I can talk to a former player from the 60s or the 70s, and I wasn’t a part of that team but we have that camaraderie because we experienced the same thing.”

– Kevin Miniefield, ASU cornerback (1989-92), Sun Devil Club Coordinator of Former Student-Athlete Outreach, NFL Cornerback (1993-97)

“When I came to Arizona State University and had the opportunity that first fall to go to Camp Tontozona, first and foremost, I recognized it was one of the most unique experiences in sports period, not just in football or college football. To get away from distractions and be there and focus on football with really what was becoming my family was very powerful, and has impacted me from that point forward, even to today. To have an opportunity to possibly go back I think would make a great impression on these young men who are currently Sun Devils and create some of the same memories for them.”

– Jean Boyd, associate athletic director of Student-Athlete Development, former ASU letterwinner

“Camp Tontozona meant a lot to me as a former player because that’s where you really get the bonding and camaraderie that you need as a team. I think for the past few years without going there, we kind of lost that tradition. I think it’s a good thing that we’re going to get the opportunity to try and go back up there this year.”

– Rudy Burgess, ASU wide receiver (2004-07), current ASU football management intern

 "If for nothing else, Camp Tontozona is about ASU Football tradition. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment leaving camp, knowing you and your teammates put yourself through physical and mental anguish to get ready for the season. CampTontozona was more physically and mentally demanding than any of my five NFL camps. It’s a badge of honor for all former Sun Devil football players, and you hate every second of the day you are there, but everyone of my former teammates recall all the good times we experienced at camp. Now as a father and fan myself, my son Nick and I love making the trip up the hill to watch practice. Its importance to Sun Devil Football cannot be overstated."
– Brett Wallerstedt, ASU linebacker (1989-92)