Arizona State athletics officials announced Thursday the "Return to Camp T" campaign in hopes of restoring the longstanding ASU football tradition of training at Camp Tontozona near Payson, Ariz.
In a press conference Thursday, recently promoted vice president for university athletics and athletic director Steve Patterson outlined the campaign, which calls for $150,000 of fundraising by June 1 for a targeted return to Tontozona from Aug. 14-18 for practice and a scrimmage.
ASU 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. ASU coach Todd Graham said since his hiring in December he has heard from alumni, fans, donors and former players about two things more than anything else: Discipline and Camp Tontozona.
"I think this camp represents something that is a lot bigger than any coach or any player," Graham said. "It's ASU football. … I'm looking forward to taking this team back there and creating the memories they're going to be talking about 20-30 years from now."
A group including Patterson and Graham visited Camp Tontozona earlier this year to evaluate its condition. The initial fundraising would go toward facility upgrades, including field conditions, food service and video facilities as well as travel costs.
More funds would be needed for year-to-year upgrades and maintenance, and if the $150,000 mark is not met in time, it will be applied to a return to the camp in 2013.
"We just need to get it back up to par, at least to a minimum level," Patterson said. "Then as we go forward into the future, we're going to need improvements to the facilities year by year."
Much of the initial funding will go specifically to renovating the practice field, which has been neglected since ASU stopped making the yearly trek to Tontozona.
ASU is hopeful that a solution has been found for weather-related issues that were a recurring problem during its years at Tontozona, when frequent seasonal thunderstorms would render the practice field unusable. Payson mayor Kenny Evans, who joined Graham and Patterson at the press conference, said the team would have access to a nearby turf field that did not exist previously.
Evans said the Payson community has been asking about the possibility of ASU's return since the team stopped coming.
"We need to start a fire of enthusiasm under something that we can be proud of," Evans said. "I believe that ASU football can be that, and I believe that spark can be Camp Tontozona."
Lack of cellular service and Internet accessibility were common knocks on the camp bordered by the Tonto National Forest, but Graham, who has emphasized discipline from day one, thinks a little disconnection might not be such a bad thing.
"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. That what it's all about, it's all about team."
Team bonding, Graham believes, was a chief reason Kush initially brought his teams to Camp Tontozona and a key contributor to the program's past success, which includes Rose Bowl appearances in the 1986 and 1996 seasons.
Jake Plummer, who quarterbacked the 1996 Rose Bowl team, backed that sentiment with a statement issued by ASU.
"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."
Other former players who issued statements of support for Tontozona included Danny White, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Adam Archuleta, Eric Allen and Rudy Burgess.
Graham said his motivation is to recapture and rebuild the strong tradition of ASU football.
"I love the tradition of college football," Graham said. "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 Camp Tontozona, just like it did in 1960. … Coach Kush had a vision. It worked well then, and it will again."