Arizona State football wraps up practices, team bonding at Camp Tontozona

Arizona Republic
PAYSON — In Kenny Dillingham's first press conference, the new Arizona State football coach said his team was going to work harder than it ever has, but his players were going to have more fun. He has doubled down on that sentiment since then.
That does appear to be the case.
The Sun Devils wrapped up three days of practice at Camp Tontozona on Saturday in front of a crowd of 2,500. The pilgrimage had been a yearly event before the COVID epidemic disrupted that tradition. The team had taken one-day trips there the last few years under former coach Herm Edwards, just for team bonding purposes, but this trip was more like those that traditionally had been taken under previous coaches.
On Friday the team practiced for two and half hours. Players and coaches then were divided into teams for a dodgeball tournament on the practice field.
"I didn't know what to expect from Camp T but it was great, get away from the city, get to relax, learn about your teammates, bond, pick up new things," said C.J. Fite, a freshman defensive lineman from Texas. "Every day something funny has happened. It's just everything. It's fun. I've said since the day I got here I've never had this much fun, even at practice, the games, it just makes you feel like a kid again."
With 60 or so new players the bonding aspect was a primary focus for Dillingham, whose team is nearing its season opener on Aug. 31 against Southern Utah at Mountain America Stadium.
The trip north presented a much-needed reprieve from the triple-digit temperatures that have been the norm in the Phoenix area the last six or so weeks. It was 30 degrees cooler than that for the Sun Devils' visit to the retreat just east of Payson.
Festivities ended Saturday morning with players singing the school fight song with fans. Most remained on the field afterward to sign autographs and take pictures with spectators.
"The guys are growing together every day. We did the hike up the mountain, put a shirt up there. Half the guys wanted to keep hiking to the way, way top so it's fun to see the guys get out of their comfort zone and realize they enjoy it," Dillingham said.
"That's the biggest thing, you get trapped in your own world of — whatever that world is, wherever you're from — and you don't understand what's actually out there and you're scared of the unknown until you're in it and then you're like, `Wow this is pretty cool.' We had guys at the top of the mountain looking out saying this looks like a Hallmark card. They'd never seen anything like it. It's so rewarding to see guys experiencing something for the first time that you take for granted. For them, this is a pretty cool experience."
The dodgeball event was part of what has been dubbed the "Sun Devil Olympics" with players and coaches divided into 10 teams, positions not factoring in, the goal being for players to interact with teammates with whom they might not normally spend as much time.
They have had different competitions nightly throughout camp, with points awarded and a grand champion to be named next week.
Asked how the coaches fared in dodgeball, Dillingham replied, "Terrible."
The coach then took a good-natured jab at receivers coach Ra'Shaad Samples, who was one of the first eliminated despite being one of the youngest and having the most street cred as an athlete in his competitive days.
And yes, when you're camping there are the expected shenanigans. Freshman running back Kyson Brown said his group did its homework and knew it was customary for the veterans to throw rocks at the cabin in which the freshmen stay, so when that attack happened the freshmen were prepared and a water fight ensued.
Freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada heard a lot about Camp T from his father, Harlen, who played at ASU from 1992-94 under Bruce Snyder. Rashada said his father used to tell him stories about the experience, although nothing he remembered vividly. He appreciates the chance to be part of tradition.
"You go in and look at the pictures on the walls of the dining hall, it's really just bigger than you so you just have to get through it a couple of days. I'm glad Coach chose tradition and to bring it back. Its times like this your team can bond," Rashada said.
"Lots of funny things happen all around. Just seeing peoples' reaction to like bugs and like the bunks."
Asked what player on the teams seemed the most uncomfortable around insects, he didn't hesitate.
There were a lot of insect pranks. Offensive lineman Isaia Glass didn't take it well.
"Somebody put one on his bed. He was about ready to cry," wide receiver Elijhah Badger tattled.
Dillingham says part of the goal for Camp T is pushing players out of their comfort zone. It's not the norm to have 40 players crammed into a cabin but it forces them to interact. The bunks aren't exactly the most comfortable, either, although many players bring accessories from home to help.
Badger drew some good natured ribbing for falling out of bed, likely because he put a oversized blow-up mattress on top of the twin bunk and it didn't quite balance out.
"I slid off and hit the wall. I still slept good," Badger said with a laugh.
Despite the primitive hardships that come with camping, all say the goal was accomplished.
"We saw how much being close as a team is going to help when it comes to games and practices," said linebacker Travion Brown, who went fishing in a nearby creek along with lineman Ben Bray on Friday afternoon. "We definitely have gotten a lot closer in the last three days. We got everything out of this that we were hoping."

Latest Player Notes

How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.Werthmann ...

Why former Wisconsin football running back Braelon Allen didn't run the 40 at pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Braelon Allen’s sweat covered his shirt and dripped off his beard as he approached a group of reporters Friday.The ...

How can UW recruit its best class ever? It starts with these five prospects

By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times staff reporter Jedd Fisch has lofty recruiting goals at Washington. He didn’t waste any ...

Texas football kicks off spring practice Tuesday. We answer 24 questions for the 2024 team

Things certainly look fresh for the 2024 college football season, especially on the Texas campus.There’s a new conference ...

College Football Playoff: Conferences solve their differences (for now) and agree on general framework for 2026 and beyond

The FBS conferences and Notre Dame agreed on Friday to continue the College Football Playoff beyond the 2025 season, signing ...

Ball security, leadership key as Aztecs look to identify starting quarterback

San Diego State seemingly auditions a new starting quarterback on an annual basis.In the past 12 years, the Aztecs have opened ...

Results and more: A look at what happened at Penn State football’s Pro Day inside Holuba Hall

Most of those at Penn State’s Pro Day Friday were relatively quiet throughout the afternoon’s workouts, but there was one ...

Defense dominates first two weeks of Oregon State spring practice as Beavers ready for 2-week breather

CORVALLIS – Oregon State hit the break of spring practices Saturday, not exactly the midpoint but a good place to assess ...

Dillon Gabriel to have similar input, autonomy as Bo Nix had in Oregon’s offense

Published Mar. 16, 2024, 6:26 p.m.By James CrepeaEUGENE — Dillon Gabriel will have much of the same autonomy as Bo Nix did ...

Two transfers, one underclassman who impressed in Missouri football's spring game

With that, spring camp’s a wrap.Missouri football held its Black & Gold spring game Saturday in front of a healthy crowd ...
See More Player Notes