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Edwards embraces unique tradition of Camp Tontozona

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. — The relative inconvenience of Camp Tontozona is what appeals to Herm Edwards.

The team-building in a unique environment that sometimes presents difficult conditions. Just far enough away from the Valley to shed some heat and distractions for a few days, while still keeping the Sun Devils within two hours of their home.

“This is not convenient,” Arizona State’s head coach pointed out after his team’s first day of practice at the camp located about 20 minutes northeast of Payson.

“It’s just not. Coming to practice, living conditions, how we meet as a team in the cafeteria – there’s plates, there’s dishes – but that’s okay because that’s football. I told guys ‘whatever happens, you’ve got to be good enough and mentally strong enough to deal with it’. That’s going to happen in a game. Things happen. How do we deal with inconvenience?”

Granted, that’s not the only reason Edwards was excited to take his group up north. He values the tradition that Frank Kush instilled in the ASU program here, and has even taken to calling it “Camp Kush” because he wants to make sure his players and coaches take the time to appreciate ASU’s history.

“I’m a real big believer in that,” he admitted. “I learned that at a young age. Understand what history is, whether it’s good or bad. If it’s bad, you don’t want to repeat it. If it’s good, you want to continue to build on it.”

So yes, Herm likes the backstories that come with a trip to Camp T. But he definitely enjoys the unpredictability, too.

“I’m a guy that always creates that kind of stuff,” he acknowledged. “This is great for me because I don’t have to create it, it just happens. Whether it rains – I don’t know what it’s going to do – I just said ‘whatever happens, we’re going to adjust’. We’re going to keep our poise and just get through it.”

It did rain on Tuesday, but not for too long. The conditions were actually pretty nice for the Devils’ first Camp T practice of 2019: overcast and cool for the full two-hour session.

Oh yeah, they’re also playing on a new 7,400-foot AstroTurf field, part of a $1 million renovation project that kept them out of here in 2018. And that field certainly stands out now – a state-of-the-art stage set against the backdrop of the Tonto National Forest.

“This is all about Coach Kush,” Edwards pointed out. “His vision. He’s looking down on us right now, smiling. He’s looking at this field, and going ‘boy I wish I had that field when I was there’ right? They used to have to pick rocks up off this field.”

No rocks this time. In fact, the biggest distraction on Tuesday came when ASU offensive analyst Kevin Mawae walked onto the field with his new gold jacket. The one he just received from the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week.

That brought practice to a halt.

“I didn’t mean to,” Mawae explained. “I wasn’t intending to. Just something swelled up in me and I felt I had to share a message with our team. And hopefully the message was well-received.”

Turns out, Edwards may have had something to do with Mawae’s entrance, saying he would’ve been “disappointed” if the Hall of Famer didn’t wear his jacket out on the field. Mawae gathered the players to talk about coming together as a team and the value of being unselfish, then changed into a gold ASU shirt while practice resumes. The impact was noticeable, though.

“Wow he stopped practice,” Dillon Sterling-Cole laughed. “I was like ‘money talks’! It’s very humbling for him to go out of his way to actually come back to talk to us and take the time. It’s truly an honor to be in his presence.”

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