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June 9, 2020

Fajardo reflects on whirlwind first season as Riders’ starter

When it comes to off-seasons, Cody Fajardo has had some busy ones over the last few years.

In 2018, he decided to get in some workouts by joining an app to walk dogs. He used it as a way to get in shape for the forthcoming season.

“It was a really tough process to go through. I was taking quizzes on how much I knew about dogs and different types of collars and different things, but once I got through that, the process of walking dogs was easy,” Fajardo said. “I was getting in 35,000 steps a day which is just ridiculous. I was down to like 208 pounds and I haven’t been that weight since around sophomore year of college.

“I called my college quarterbacks coach and he said I should add back that weight. But I got all five-star ratings and I had a good, clean profile.”

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Cody Fajardo signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders ahead of the 2019 campaign and became one of the breakout stars of last season. (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Skip ahead to 2019 and Fajardo and his now-wife, Laura, were planning their wedding in March — although he admits that she did most of the heavy lifting in that regard. On top of that, he had to go through another free agency. Fajardo signed a deal to join the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Feb. 13, making it the third team he was joining in as many years.

He prepared for a backup role behind veteran pivot Zach Collaros, but just three plays into the season, Collaros suffered an injury that would prove to be long-term, meaning that Fajardo had to unexpectedly lead the team from the get-go.

“It was absolutely crazy for me personally,” Fajardo said. “As the backup, you know you’re usually going to have to play but maybe midway through the season when bodies are kind of beat up a bit. You never really expect it to be the third play of the first game.

“When I signed with the Riders, Zach was very open about his injury history. He said, ‘Look, Cody. You might have to play this year. I don’t know how many games but you might have to play. I haven’t been fortunate with my injury situation.’ So just hearing that from the starter made me want to work harder because I want to do whatever to help the team.”

The Riders dropped that game to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before losing to the Ottawa REDBLACKS in a shootout a week later. Then in Week 3, Fajardo and the Riders would secure their first win of the year with a 32-7 victory over the Toronto Argonauts at home.

Fajardo threw for 430 yards and a pair of scores while completing 77 percent of his passes, marking arguably his best outing of the campaign.

The 28-year-old continued to chip in solid performances, and on July 31, the Riders put their faith solely in Fajardo, as they moved Collaros to Toronto in exchange for a draft pick.

He was now the man in charge of running the offence and someone that head coach Craig Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day could look to as a potential quarterback of the future.

“I had no idea until we were in an offensive meeting about to go to a walkthrough. And coach (Stephen) McAdoo said that we had traded Zach and that I was the guy,” Fajardo said. “It was such a tough situation to be in because I wanted to be excited about the opportunity, I was also losing a good friend and teammate and a guy who was helping me along the way.

“So it was kind of awkward because guys were coming up and congratulating me, but in the back of my mind, it felt weird for me to celebrate when someone else had just lost their job. I remember going home and just keeping to myself. I called my dad and told him that the team had put their faith in me and we were like, ‘Man, we’ve been waiting five years just for a team to latch on.’ We finally got that with the Riders and it was truly a blessing.”

Fajardo helped lead the Riders to finish the year with a 13-5 record, marking their most regular-season victories since 1969.

He was nothing short of spectacular, throwing for 4,302 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding an additional 611 yards and 10 majors on 107 carries.

That earned him a fresh two-year extension with the team. Saskatchewan checked all the boxes for him. They had given him an opportunity to flourish, the team was playing extremely well and the fans welcomed him with open arms. However, the microscope of playing in one of the CFL’s hotbeds wasn’t always easy last season.

“Being a Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback on a winning team, life is good,” Fajardo said. “But I imagined how it would be if the team wasn’t winning football games. So that really was a part of my motivation and drive was just not to let the fans down because I wanted to be able to go to the grocery store and talk about our victory rather than throwing fewer interceptions or moving the ball more.

“But I love the pressure that the fans put on us because the passion that they have for the team is what makes us want to fight even more. We don’t want to let them down.”

The Green and White were in a battle with Calgary and Winnipeg down the stretch to decide who would win the West. It came down to the final week of the season to decide the No. 1 seed, so rather than getting in some rest with a playoff spot clinched, Saskatchewan was expected to turn to Fajardo for at least a portion of the contest.

However, while preparing for the final game against Edmonton, he was throwing a ball in practice and felt a sharp pain in his midsection that took him down to a knee.

“I just felt like I got stabbed in the side and I went to my knees and just thought to myself, ‘This would be the time I get hurt, right before we get to playoffs,'” he said. “But I kind of just said, ‘Well, we’re at the end of the season. If I can just get through without making anything worse, I could do that.’

“I think the most pressure I had on myself is that I just re-signed with the team and finally got paid as a starter so I didn’t want to let the team down, and especially the fans. That’s probably what I wrestled with the most; not letting the fans down. So I just worked my tail off to be ready to play.”

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo was named one of the finalists for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award after a spectacular first season as a starter. (Arthur Ward/CFL.ca)

He suffered an oblique injury and the pairing of Isaac Harker and Bryan Bennett were tasked with helping the team secure the West Division crown. They accomplished just that, earning their starter an extra week of rest with a bye to the Western Final.

By his own estimation, Fajardo was at about 80 percent into the Western Final against the Bombers. While fighting through the pain, he put up 366 yards on 27 completions. Down by a score in the final minute, the riders stormed down the field and got into the red zone. The drive was kept alive when Fajardo’s pass tipped off the hands of Marcus Sayles and fell to Kyran Moore.

Saskatchewan was knocking on the door, but on the final play of the game, Fajardo’s heave to the end zone for Moore hit the crossbar, ending the Riders’ season in heartbreaking fashion.

Immediately after his pass hit the upright, Fajardo collapsed to the field, head in hands.

“For me, the only thought was, ‘Don’t throw that ball short and get stopped and lose the game that way.’ I’d rather throw the ball in the end zone and give our guys a chance,” Fajardo said. “The game was sold out but it was dead silent when the ball went near and I just remember hearing the echo of the goalpost.

“I collapsed because of all the hard work the team did and the hard work that I did to get back to that game and all the hard work we did to get back into the game. The fact that it hit the goalpost and I have no idea what would’ve happened — if Swerve (Moore) had caught it or if it would’ve been picked or incomplete — still haunts me to this day. There’s no closure to that.”

The Riders had a strong campaign that ended in one of the worst ways imaginable, but the team finished with eight West Division All-Stars, five of which went on to be named 2019 CFL All-Stars, with Fajardo heading the group.

He was voted as one of the nominees for the Most Outstanding Player, Dickenson was up for the Coach of the Year Award and Cameron Judge was a finalist for Most Outstanding Canadian.

The trio embarked on Calgary and attended the 2019 Shaw CFL Awards. The moment was bittersweet, as being in the city but not competing for the Grey Cup was admittedly tough for Fajardo and his teammates.

“What was cool for me was my dad came in for the Western Final and he had a couple extra days off work and I was able to fly him to Calgary,” Fajardo said. “He came to the award ceremony and he walked the red carpet with the cameras and he was absolutely loving that.

“The silver lining in all of it was that I haven’t spent too much time with my dad in a long time because I’ve been all over the place. So just being able to spend time, go to dinner or a bar with my dad and not have to worry about a game, so that was something I’ll remember.

The Riders didn’t win any of the major awards on the night, something that Fajardo says had added extra fuel for them to run it back and reach the top of the mountain in 2020.

When it came to the 107th Grey Cup game a few days later, Fajardo and his family had tickets, but he couldn’t bring himself to watch another team hoist the cup in person, so he caught the end of the game at his hotel and watched the highlights later that night.


Episode 213: Henoc Muamba on growing tensions and how to action change

EPISODE OVERVIEW: Alouettes LB Henoc Muamba joins Donnovan and Davis as they discuss the ongoing tensions and protests and how sports is reacting.  They also discuss the Henoc’s newest venture, ‘Muamba Moments’.

EPISODE RUNDOWN: The story behind the ‘Muamba Moments’ podcast (1:20); How sports is reacting to tensions and protests (5:30); Keeping the conversation going (8:45); Realizing issues are not exclusive to America (10:45); Silence speaks volumes (12:30); Tangible actions (14:30).


Now that he has some certainty as to where his future lies, the Fajardo’s have started to lay down some roots in

With the possibility of the 2020 season getting underway in September, Fajardo and his teammates have to be ready for the scenario of being in a fight for the playoffs from the first game. He’s got a plethora of exciting targets on offence as well as a new coordinator in Jason Maas.

For now, he’s trying his best to keep busy and looking ahead to the season, but he’s been able to reflect on the previous year and how special his rise has been from a backup to one of the most exciting signal-callers that the CFL has to offer.

“We wouldn’t even celebrate Valentine’s Day because it was such a stressful time,” Fajardo said of free agency. “(Laura) is going through doctorate school, so for me, and for me, it’s been like, ‘Oh, we might move again or might do this,’ and it’s always been her putting her plans on hold waiting for me. So it’s finally been a great off-season where we can settle down and plan. We just put an offer in on a house where we can set our roots instead of jumping around all over the place.

“So it’s truly been a blessing to get this contract and know where I’m going to be at come this season. I’m also excited to be the quarterback for the greatest franchise in Canada and I’m ready for the opportunity to get back out there.”