2022 Southern Arizona high school football preview: Willcox Cowboys

2A San Pedro: Willcox

2021 record: 8-3 overall, 2-2 2A San Pedro (third)

Head coach: Eric Hjalmarson, 27-19 sixth year overall, 11-6 third year at Willcox. Hjalmarson (pronounced Hahl-mar-sen) took over the Willcox program in 2020 after moving from Safford, where he coached that program to the 3A South title in 2019 with an 8-3 overall record. Hjalmarson was 14-6 in his two years at Safford and was 2-7 at Globe in 2009. After playing for legendary coach Paul Moro at Blue Ridge, where he won three state titles, Hjalmarson played at Eastern Arizona College before transferring to Arizona as a walk-on for the 1999 season. He was a teammate of Scooter Sprotte’s at Blue Ridge and Arizona.

Willcox’s offensive line of (left to right) Jaden Wilson, Evann Truschke, Ed Tingle, Michael Martinez and Travis Larson is ready for the 2022 season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)


Key returners:

  • RB/DB Ayden Fuentes, 6-0, 185, Sr.
  • QB/DB Kash Macumber, 5-10, 165, Jr.
  • HB/LB Cristian Pando, 5-10, 185, Sr.
  • TE/DE Seth Verdugo, 5-8, 150, Sr.
  • LB/OG Evann Truschke, 5-9, 160, Sr.
  • OL/DL Izzy Villegas, 5-11, 285, Jr.
  • OL/DL Jaden Wilson, 5-8, 200, Jr.
  • OL/DL Travis Larson, 5-10, 195, Soph.
  • OL/DL Ed Tingle, 5-8, 195, Jr.
  • OL/DL Mikey Martinez, 5-8, 195, Sr.

“We run the ball so much we thought it would be a good to move Guero (Ayden Fuentes) back to the backfield and have the two-headed monster back there (with fellow senior running back Cristian Pando).” – Hjalmarson on Fuentes moving from quarterback to running back to join Pando in the backfield.

Willcox coach Eric Hjalmarson has started a tradition of posting near the locker room all-region players along with an “Ironman” award listed for every player that competed in all practices and games in a season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“I look forward to playing my last year with this team — playing for Willcox High School. I’m really hoping we have a great season this year, build off of last season.” — Pando, a senior

“Me and Cristian have been playing football since middle school. He was quarterback in middle school; I was wide receiver. We always worked together. Coming into high school with that chemistry already it just flows really good with both of us in the backfield.” — Fuentes on playing with his lifelong friend Pando

Cristian Pando (10) and Ayden Fuentes will comprise one of the best offensive backfields in the state. They also are top players in the Cowboys’ defensive secondary (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Coaching staff:

  • Head coach: Eric Hjalmarson
  • Assistant: Jeston Lotts
  • Assistant: Mike Patterson
  • Assistant: Mike Rand
  • Assistant: Steven Ward
  • Assistant: Trevor Ward
Willcox coach Eric Hjalmarson is an unorthodox, down-to-earth coach who wears sandals during practice and the players widely respect him in his third year leading the program (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Notes: RB/LB Cristian Pando, a senior, is a returning Ed Doherty Award candidate who rushed for 336 yards on 32 carries with four TDs in the Cowboys’ 48-14 win over San Tan Foothills in the third game of the season last year. Pando also had two 200-yard rushing games against Tombstone and Holbrook. He finished with 1,629 yards on 228 carries with 27 touchdowns. … Pando and senior Ayden Fuentes comprise one of the best backfields in the state. Fuentes rushed for 687 yards on 86 carries with 10 touchdowns as the quarterback last season. Fuentes’ father Adrian Fuentes is the Willcox baseball coach who is a former Arizona Diamondbacks draftee. Ayden is an emerging baseball prospect as a right-handed pitcher, shortstop and center fielder who is being recruited presently by many junior colleges in the state. He batted .468 last season with a 3.08 ERA to go with 90 strikeouts and 36 walks in 50 innings. … Hjalmarson spent one season at Arizona under Dick Tomey as a walk-on in 1999 after transferring from Eastern Arizona College. A new coach on the staff — former Parker head coach Jeston Lotts — was a roommate of his for two seasons at a Christian athlete retreat during the summer when they played in high school. Lotts is a counselor at Willcox. He coached football for 14 years at Parker, the last 10 as head coach before resigning in April. In 2020 and 2021, he led the Broncs to two region titles in the 2A Agua Fria region. In 2021, they reached the state semifinals before finally losing to Morenci. … Willcox must be Road Warriors playing at Morenci, which lost in the 2A state championship game against Arizona Lutheran, on Sept. 16. The Cowboys also play at traditional rival Benson (now in the 3A) on Sept. 2 and also on the road against Tanque Verde to end the regular season Oct. 28.

Willcox junior Kash Macumber, one of the top defensive backs in Southern Arizona last year, is transitioning to quarterback this season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Keep an eye out for: QB/S Kash Macumber, a 5-foot-10 and 165-pound athlete who will be a perfect complement to Pando and Fuentes in the backfield as quarterback. Macumber is coming off a productive sophomore season, especially on defense, in which he had 26 tackles with four interceptions. He is the older brother of Willcox youth-softball phenom Hattie Macumber, the AllSportsTucson.com Female Athlete of the Month for July after she won all five of her starts (with a 0.46 ERA) in the Arizona State Little League 8-10 Softball Championship tournament at Sierra Vista. She struck out 71 and walked 16 in 26 innings.

21. WILLCOX (3-4, 2-1)

Head coach: Eric Hjalmarson
Cowboys compete in the 2A San Pedro. *Region game. Games at 7 p.m.
8/18Arizona LutheranL, 32-210-10-0
8/25at Tonopah ValleyL, 45-420-20-0
9/1at Show LowL, 48-190-30-0
9/15ALA-Anthem SouthFFT, 1-01-30-0
9/22at Tombstone*W, 23-202-31-0
9/29Bisbee*L, 30-282-41-1
10/6Tanque Verde*W, 7-03-42-1
10/13at Palo Verde*------
10/27at Catalina*------


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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