Each August, ASU coaches have bivouacked their team for a week in the remote Mogollon Rim pine country at Camp Tontozona. The Sun Devils first practiced at the mountain property in 1960 under legendary coach Frank Kush, but the tradition ended in 2008 after the completion of the program’s indoor practice facility in Tempe.
Thank goodness for second-year head coach Todd Graham.
Soon after his arrival on the ASU campus, Graham voiced his support for a return to practice at Camp T. “In the day we live in now, there’s so many luxuries in college football,” Graham said. “I like the idea of the camp. I like the idea of our guys not being able to use their cell phones, not being able to get on the Internet and just spending time with each other.”
While many former ASU players have fond memories of their time spent at Tontozona, the remote location and grueling practice schedule often take time to grow on new arrivals. After all, as destination spots go it’s not exactly a five-star resort.
Kush recalls, “In the beginning, we had to put a barbed-wire fence around the football field because cattle would come in and crap all over the place.”
Of course, Tontozona is notorious for more than its rustic charm.
There are the monsoon cloudbursts that roll in like clockwork every afternoon, washing away practices and coaches’ to-do lists.
There’s the lung-busting hike (or in the case of Kush’s teams, run) up nearby Mt. Kush.
And there’s the “wildlife” that terrorizes Camp T’s cabin-dwellers.
According to local lore, former ASU head coach Darryl Rogers was frightened by bugs, which found their way into the sleeping bags of camp residents. Word is Rogers would make a phone call in the middle of the night to have someone come down and spray his cabin if he saw even one of them.
Creepy critters notwithstanding, Tontozona is mostly about team building.
Jake Plummer, who quarterbacked the 1996 Rose Bowl team, echoed that sentiment when recalling his playing days for the maroon and gold.
“Camp Tontozona was simply about a bonding experience for us, especially as freshmen.” Plummer said. “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.”