‘Throw it all on me’: Riders’ QB Cody Fajardo ready to balance pressure of home Grey Cup, expiring contract and new baby

Photo courtesy: Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

Playing football in Regina is like living in the world’s least impressive snow globe, every action placed under careful scrutiny.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo learned that the hard way last season, as both he and the team were bombarded by criticism despite finishing second in the West Division, winning a home playoff game, and pushing the eventual Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers to the brink in the West Final.

Fajardo was vocal last season about the effect that toxic negativity had on him personally, much of which he believes was unfounded. However, the quarterback admits his personal performance took a step back while leading a young team that was plagued by injuries in 2021.

“I tried to take it upon myself and do too much and any time you do that as a quarterback, I think your play falters a little bit,” Fajardo acknowledged in a radio interview on 980 CJME’s The Green Zone. “When you try to be perfect, the little things become a little bit more challenging.”

The quarterback believes he’s learned his lesson on that front and is on a journey to tune out the noise next season, but there is only one problem: it is only going to get louder. After a challenging 2021, Fajardo is set to step out of the furnace and into the fire with the most important year of his life in front of him, both personally and professionally.

“I’ve been reading in some psychology books about not putting too much of that perfection pressure on yourself but I will tell you: this year is gonna be pressure packed,” he admitted. “Not only have we lost to Winnipeg in the West Final back-to-back years, I’m in a contract year, the Grey Cup is in Sask, and I’m having a baby mid-season. It’s like throw it all on me this year and let’s the see what happens.”

On all fronts, Fajardo believes he is up for the challenge. The young Riders are now battle-tested ahead of what he had dubbed “revenge season” — a somewhat ironic extrinsically motivated moniker for a man looking to tune out public criticism. A loaded receiving corps should provide him with all the weapons he needs for a bounce-back season, a perfect recipe for a run at a home Grey Cup and a sizeable contract extension.

The most unpredictable variable will be Fajardo’s journey into fatherhood, with his wife due to deliver their first child sometime around the Labour Day Classic. The idea of a sleep-deprived starting quarterback for the stretch run is unlikely to appeal to many fans, but the comfort of family will ultimately be a net positive.

“What many people don’t know is during the season, my wife was either in school or she’s been working. After the games, after practices, I would come home to a one-bedroom apartment and just sit there,” Fajardo revealed.

“The devil feasts on you when you are sitting alone and being there with your thoughts. My wife will come up closer towards the due day, which is in September, and my dog will come up and coming home to that unconditional love, I think is gonna pay dividends for me.”

The baby’s arrival has also provided him with a rather unique goal to shoot for throughout the season. Winning a championship is always a motivator, winning one at home even more so, but a desire to put something other than champagne in the Grey Cup’s iconic chalice is what is now driving Fajardo.

“My true motivation, to tell you the truth, is to get my son a picture in the Grey Cup at home, in front of all of our crazy fans,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s the motivation going into this year, winning that Grey Cup so my son can have an awesome baby picture.”

Far less adorable goals have driven players to greatness before and the milestones in his personal life will keep Fajardo grounded. How he handles the added pressure of the 2022 season remains to be seen, but there will be at least one diamond made from it laying in the crib at home.

So what are the Riders’ chances in 2022? Where things currently stand, Fajardo and the Riders aren’t too far behind Winnipeg when it comes to odds to win the West and the Grey Cup () at sportsbooks in Ontario.