‘Street cred’ could help Jason Maas elevate Riders’ QB Cody Fajardo to elite status

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The opportunity to work with Cody Fajardo intrigued Jason Maas.

You can tell by the energy and excitement Maas displays when talking about Saskatchewan’s franchise quarterback.

“You watch him play and the first thing that jumps out at you, the Ottawa game he gets to play one of his first games fully going through, and lit the scoreboard up, and did it in a variety of different ways. He’s talented, he can run the ball, he can throw the ball, he’s tough as hell. Watching him play he has that moxie and that savviness to him that you appreciate,” Maas said.

Fajardo produced a 12-4 win-loss record as a starting quarterback, throwing for a league-high 4,302 yards while completing over 71 per cent of his passes with 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions in his first season as a No. 1 QB. The dual-threat pivot used his legs for 611 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 rushing attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

“To be able to do what he did in one year is outstanding and now it’s about putting that together and continuing to progress. There’s room for improvement, but watching him play it’s exciting to work with a guy like that. He’s got that moxie, that leadership, you can tell the guys rally around him and believe in him,” Maas said.

“Talking to Craig [Dickenson] and Jeremy [O’Day] both, the guys here they like playing for him, you can see that. He looks excited to play football every day. I know a couple guys that know him personally and they do say that about him. He loves the game, he’s tough. I really, firmly believe in this game, you need to be smart, accurate and tough to play quarterback. I believe he’s all three of those.”

Fajardo signed a two-year contract extension as the face of the Riders worth over $400,000 per season. It ties the star QB to Saskatchewan through the 2021 season. Maas has the same length term on his deal. Unless Maas leaves for a head coach job in one year, it gives the tandem at least two years together.

“Look forward to getting a working relationship established with him, personal relationship established with him and trying to make him as good as he can possibly be,” Maas said.

“He brings a lot of street cred to the position. He’s played at a high level, he’s coached at a high level as a coordinator and he’s also coached at a high level as a head coach,” Dickenson said about Maas. “He really checks the boxes off in terms of somebody that commands respect of the room, has great knowledge of various and multiple systems and has been there and done it before.”

Entering the 2019 season Fajardo had never started a professional football game. He was a backup and short yardage specialist with the Toronto Argos and B.C Lions to begin his CFL career. Fajardo flourished in Stephen McAdoo’s offence. Making the transition to Maas’ system will be a change for Fajardo, but the new play caller wants to make it an easy transition.

“It’s more about learning the offence, getting that under your belt and that’s what we’re going to do this off-season with him. Try to get him as comfortable as possible so that he can go out there and play ball as good as he can,” Maas said.

“There’s little nuances that will be different for Cody in the offence. It is about getting on the same page and understanding Cody’s strengths and his weaknesses and playing more to his strengths. Making great decisions is the biggest part about playing quarterback.”

Maas helps quarterbacks make the proper reads and propel signal callers to career-best seasons. Henry Burris won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award in 2015 as Smilin’ Hank threw for a single-season high 5,693 yards. Mike Reilly totalled 5,830 yards in 2017 and earned the league’s MOP award. Ticats playmaker Brandon Banks was the MOP beating Fajardo for the hardware in 2019.

With Maas on the mic, Fajardo has the potential to reach elite status.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.