Alouettes’ QB Cody Fajardo looking to ‘prove all the haters wrong’ after ‘down year’ with Riders

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

Montreal Alouettes’ quarterback Cody Fajardo has set a number of goals for the 2023 season, one of which is silencing his critics after a tough year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“Everyone knows what happened last year, I had a down year and so I’m looking to kind of prove all the haters wrong and I’m just excited. It’s not very many times in professional sports where you get a second chance and I feel like I got a second chance here at playing this quarterback position and I’m not taking it for granted,” Fajardo told the media in Montreal.

Fajardo started 15 games in Saskatchewan this past season, leading the team to a 6-9 record in those contests. He fought through a nagging knee injury for most of the year and threw for 3,360 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions along with 81 carries for 357 yards and eight touchdowns.

The 31-year-old was benched for the final two games of the regular season despite the Riders still being mathematically eligible for the postseason. He spoke to the media after he was benched in favour of Mason Fine in October and questioned whether or not another team would want him when he hit free agency.

Fajardo is the CFL’s seventh-highest-paid quarterback heading into the 2023 season and received a $125,000 signing bonus to join the Als in February. Even so, he isn’t expecting the starting job to be handed to him and wants to prove that he should be the first quarterback under centre come the regular season.

“I want to earn the job. I don’t want anything given to me and my whole career, especially in the CFL, I’ve felt has been worked on and earned and I don’t want anything different (in Montreal). I want to make sure that I give this coaching staff, I give (general manager) Danny [Maciocia], I give the new owner a reason to put me as the starting quarterback and be proud of me being the starting quarterback,” said Fajardo.

“I want to earn that, that’s my goal and that was my goal stepping in here day one and all the way to the end when hopefully we lift the (Grey) Cup over our heads.”

Jason Maas, who served as Fajardo’s offensive coordinator with the Riders in 2022, is now the head coach of the Alouettes. The veteran quarterback believes that his familiarity with Maas’ offensive system and terminology will give him an advantage early on.

“We know how to work with each other and as a quarterback when you have the terminology and stuff down, you don’t have to think about the playbook. Now you can just focus on the defence, you can focus on your mechanics and that’s what I’m excited about. I can fine tune those little things and not have to be so focused on learning,” said Fajardo.

“That’s a big reason why I wanted to come here is because of my relationship with Coach Maas. We had a great relationship in [Saskatchewan], we know each other, our strengths, our weaknesses, and that’s something that we’ve carried over to here.”

Fajardo wasted no time setting high expectations for his first season in La Belle Province. Montreal has finished the regular season with a winning record only once since 2013 and lost a number of star players amid the team’s off-season ownership crisis that ended with the league selling the team to local billionaire Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

“.500 is not going to get it done, in my opinion. This is a very good division, a lot of teams loaded up in free agency and we’re a new, young team with a lot of new faces around here but sometimes that can play to your advantage,” said Fajardo.

“It’s an exciting time here because we have a new owner, we have a new head coach, we have a new president, and a new starting quarterback. There’s a lot of optimism around the team and around the fans and I think there’s a lot of people that are excited and the way that you keep people excited and optimistic is you go win games. That’s our goal and our goal is to win games early and to embrace ourselves in the community.”

The native of Brea, Calif. is making an effort to learn French out of respect for Quebec’s culture. He indicated that he was recently able to order a meal using the local language while out for breakfast with the team’s quarterbacks.

“They’re embracing us in the community and we want to be a part of the community,” he said. “As an American, I’m thankful to be in the CFL. It’s my first year with the Als, so I want to do everything I can to immerse myself amongst this community even if I sound like a rookie with French, but I’m trying to learn it and trying to grow.”

If Fajardo is able to help Montreal finish atop the East Division for the first time in a decade, it stands to reason the local fans will embrace him très vite.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.