Saturday's scrimmage, which drew over 5,000 fans to the friendly camp confines outside of Payson, was heavily dominated by the offense as the team displayed big play potential, a balanced attack, as they scored nine touchdowns.
The surprise player of the day was freshman Terrell Davis. The running back from Victoria, British Columbia had been buried on the Sun Devils’ depth chart all through fall camp. Yet, when got his first true chance to showcase his talents since arriving in Tempe he erupted for 123 rushing yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns.
"I think everyone did well," said Davis afterwards. "We put the ball on the ground on couple times, which we've got to correct. I've got to work on blocking, myself. But all around I think we did a pretty good job and we had a couple big touchdown passes, which was big, so I think we all did a good job today."
With injuries beginning to take their toll on the Sun Devils, especially at running back - a position once thought to be of strength because of its depth - Davis remains hopeful that he can earn his way into the fold in 2012.
"I'm not too sure how it's going to work out," he said. "I'm just going to leave that up to the coaches. If they call on me, I'll be ready to go right away. If they have me redshirt, then that's what I’ll do - whatever it takes to help this team win."
While the Sun Devil offense was clicking on all cylinders, putting up nine touchdowns with all three quarterbacks leading scoring drives, the Arizona State defense still found reasons to be optimistic. The Sun Devil starters minimized the damage, only allowing three points as a unit, while also continuing to put pressure on the ASU signal callers.
"The only thing is we sort of got started slow and had a couple mental mistakes,” said starting said safety Alden Darby, “but we picked it up, so overall we had a good day. The 2’s need to get it together with their mental mistakes and knowing their assignments and reading their keys."
"We did pretty well, but we have a great offense,” added cornerback Robert Nelson. “Rashad Ross, Jamal Miles and that freshman D.J. Foster, man, they did their thing. But it was a balanced game."
Despite the outcome of Saturday's scrimmage, one thing all Sun Devil players can agree on is the significance of the team retreat. In the midst of a highly competitive fall camp and less than two weeks from the season opener against Northern Arizona, the time away from Tempe provided the team a chance to bond and come together before settling in for the semester in a way very few have experienced before.
"It was great," commented Davis. "It was a tough camp. The coaches are hard but it's just going to make us better in the long run."
"Coming to camp, man, I loved it," exclaimed Darby as he interacted and signed autographs with Sun Devil fans after the scrimmage. "I'm from the city, so coming to the outdoors and having no cell phone service out here, I just bonded with my team. Like last night, me and the DB's, we all got in a circle and started talking. Actually, it was Robert Nelson, the one who's been kind of distant from the group since he got here, who called us all together, and he was like, 'Man, I feel like I'm a part of something.'
“We all just kind of looked at each other said we felt like we were a part of something too. Something much more than just ourselves; like we're a real team, a family. These coaches are doing so much and changing the program and coming to camp was a great experience."
Nelson, notoriously quiet amongst an otherwise outspoken defensive cast, echoed Darby's thoughts.
"The hardest part for me was opening up," Nelson said. "I'm a very quiet guy, so opening up to my teammates is something I never really did before; I always just went out there and played. So opening up to these guys and trusting them and knowing that they're going to play for me as well, was great.
"It was actually a great experience. I've never experienced anything like this. I'm glad to be a part of this tradition. Some days it was hard, but my teammates, you know, we really came together. And climbing that mountain that really meant something to me. The whole team climbing the mountain, coming out here signing balls, it means something."
Hiking famed Mount Kush and jumping into the creek, also known as the ‘Tillman Pool’ near the camp grounds are rituals for players at Tontozona but the experience also offers a variety of other ways for players to interact with each other in ways they normally wouldn't do while back on campus.
"One of the coolest things for me was the other night," reflected Darby. "Me and like 20 other dudes walked through the woods and we were just walking in the dark. You can walk to the creek fast during the day but at night time when it's pitch black and you've got just a couple flashlights, it's kind of scary. But there was a lot of laughter and we got there and we sat down and were just talking, so I could never forget that.
"We saw a snake, some frogs, a tarantula, a real black widow; we saw it all."
Head Coach Todd Graham has called Camp Tontozona a ‘rite of passage’ this week and explained how he hopes to extend the retreat by at least a few days in the upcoming years. Sun Devil teams of the past have always reflected fondly on their experiences at Camp T and contribute it to the bonds they developed with their teammates, something that this current group of players can sense as well.
"Coming here to camp brought us together," said Darby. "The coaches would bring us together and tell us what they expect and even some of the other players would bring us together. I could see it.
"Like even Junior (Onyeali) today was on the sideline and he was like, 'When your brother's tired, go tap your brother out. That's what we're here for, to help each other.' And we all know Junior is a passionate player, but he and Davon (Coleman) are the two dudes I've seen change the most since Coach Graham got here. Their character is unbelievable now and it's really making a difference."
With Camp Tontozona now officially in the rearview, the Sun Devils can turn their attention to focusing on the last week of camp before the season kicks off on August 30th. And despite all the unique fun of camp, the players can agree there are some things they'll be looking forward to as they return to campus.
"The first thing I'm going to do is ice my body and get ready for the season," said Nelson.
Darby had other plans in mind.
"The first thing I'm going to do when I get back is get a haircut,” he said. “Me and Deveron (Carr) are going straight to the barber shop when we get back to Tempe."