Somewhere up there, Frank Kush is shaking his head in disappointment.
The legendary Arizona State University football coach who passed away last summer at age 88 likely wouldn’t have accepted the fact that one of his teams wouldn’t be able to make the annual trek to Camp Tontozona to prepare for the 2018 season.
ASU officials announced just days ago that the trip to the practice site that Kush built in 1960 has been canceled. Evidently, the Payson area where the camp is located has been getting too much rain to be able to complete work on an artificial surface that is being installed.
According to the announcement, the rain has caused the tributaries and streams that run under the field to percolate up to the surface and make it impossible to bring in the heavy equipment needed to level the ground and finish out the playing surface.
A logical explanation from the experts. But not one that the hard-nosed Kush would likely have accepted. In the two decades that he used the idyllic camp among the pines to prepare his teams for the rigors of the season ahead, there were no excuses for not making the trip. Looking back on those days, Kush had made it very clear that he attributed the work accomplished each season at Camp T as a major factor in the success of his teams.
Those teams enabled him to compile a 176-54-1 record in 22 seasons, post winning records in 19 of those seasons, go undefeated twice (1970, 1975), and make a couple of Rose Bowl appearances.
This wouldn’t be the first time he wasn’t able to use the field during the team’s week-long stay. Because of the unpredictable nature of the weather in the White Mountains during the summer, there was always the threat of heavy rain storms. When those rains did roll in, the coaches just packed the teams up and bused them into town where they would find a usable field.
After all, the trip was just as much about team bonding and mental preparation. The rustic living accommodations and quiet time without the distractions they experienced down in Tempe were central to that process. Kush wanted his players to use the camp to better focus on the fast-approaching season and build the kind of bond that would enable them to withstand the pressures and challenges that lie ahead.
The 36-acre camp borders the Tonto National Forest, which provides the first two syllables of the name. The state of Arizona adds the last two. And nowadays, it’s been simplified to simply Camp T.
A football field carved out of a scenic basin over a half-century ago, surrounded by lush foliage and picturesque pine-covered mountains, is recognized now as one of the premier practice facilities in all of college football.
Dennis Erickson interrupted the tradition when he took over the Sun Devils program in 2007 and for five years the team practiced on campus in an air-conditioned practice facility he had erected. But when Todd Graham took over in 2012, he restored the tradition. And now, it will be Herm Edwards‘ chance to experience Camp T.
Hired last December to replace Graham, Edwards says he was looking forward to being the next coach to have the opportunity to use the unique training facility that Kush used to elevate the ASU football program into a national contender. The Sun Devils were often ranked in the Top 25 and finished the 1975 season ranked No. 2 in the country.
“This was a tough decision for our program, especially for me, who has yet to experience the mystique of Camp Tontozona,” said Edwards when announcing the trip cancellation. “But the health of our players comes first. I’m already anticipating the experience we will have next season and the new field will help enhance the amount of work the team can accomplish during our stay at Camp T.”
Sounds reasonable. But you still have to wonder if Frank Kush would have let a little rain stand in his way.
(Photo: ASU Archives)