Nye: Fajardo leads Riders into an important season

CFL.ca will be previewing the 2022 season, taking an in-depth look at each of the nine teams as they get set to hit the field.

Pressure mounts for Fajardo entering third season with Riders (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

‘What do you think of the Riders hopes this season?’

Other than ‘how is seeding going?’ Or ‘is it going to rain?’ It’s one of the most popular questions in Saskatchewan.

This year, I find it easier to answer than any other season.

The answer: Cody Fajardo.

He knows it, the team knows it, the fans know it. The 2022 season is an important year for he and the team for various reasons and Fajardo is the man who will make the difference between another season of coming up short or taking the next step to be in the championship game in Regina in November.

» View: 2022 CFL Schedule
» Five Things To Know: Saskatchewan Roughriders
» Nye: Riders take a new approach to hosting Grey Cup
» Riders have one goal in mind in 2022 

Not only does Fajardo have the pressure of being the face of the franchise in one of the toughest markets on quarterbacks in the CFL, but he’s also on a contract year.

The third year starter is coming off a season that created some questions about which quarterback he is? 2019 was the coming out party for the longtime short yardage quarterback, who even cut his teeth running down on special teams back in his days in Toronto.

In 2021, Fajardo looked like a different quarterback and followed a league-wide trend of offensive numbers dipping.

This season could be pivotal for Fajardo and the Riders.

Fajardo wasn’t as dynamic in 2021 as he was when he took over for the injured Zach Collaros in Week 1 of the season. His passing percentage was down, his yards were down, his touchdowns dropped, his interceptions were up and he lost his spot as the top deep ball passer in the league.

The one thing Fajardo could still do was win. While the defence held the Riders in games last season, it was still Fajardo that had to lead the team down field on vital drives and make the key pass or extend the play just enough to find the play down field.

If there is one thing about Fajardo you can’t question, it’s his determination to make the play. I don’t think there is any other quarterback in the league who that can compete with Fajardo when it comes to his ‘want to.’

It’s why Fajardo has become so endearing in Rider Nation. The image of him diving for touchdowns with defenders all over him is a sign of how much he’s willing to sacrifice to win.

Those are the intangibles you can’t put on a stat sheet.

You also look at Fajardo off the field as one of the more likeable, engaged, and committed football players to the community.

Fajardo doesn’t take the role of being a No. 1 quarterback lightly.

And why should he?

He’s been passed over, sat on the bench, held a clip board, run short yardage, special teams play and he was settled on the possibility of 2019 being his last professional football season until he lit the spark that led the Riders to first in the division for the first time since 2009.

You can not question Fajardo’s ability to persevere and overcome; it’s what has gotten him to this stage in his career.

Fajardo looking to have a bounce back year after 2021 season (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

2021 was not the season Fajardo wanted. He readily admits holding the weight of being away from his wife for a good chunk of the season. His play was not where he wanted it and being unable to turn away from football impacted him more than he could have imagined.

He’d doom scroll on social media as fans and media critiqued his play. There was no outlet to turn off, disconnect, as even the COVID restrictions that were in place and the protocols in the league prohibited much off field stress relief.

Fajardo was in tears at the end of last season when asked what it meant for him to be the Roughriders’ quarterback as he acknowledged how badly he wants to win and knew how many plays the offence left on the field.

In 2022, his wife will join him in Saskatchewan. A baby will join them mid-season as they expect their first child. There’s nothing keeping him from heading to a bowling alley or movie theatre to get a break from the pressure of the season.

There are plenty of reasons why Fajardo may not have been himself in 2021. Even if some will say, those are just excuses.

I know one thing. There shouldn’t be very many reasons or excuses for Fajardo to have a down season in 2022.

He has the same offence with offensive coordinator with Jason Maas back for 2022. He also has a full season with Duke Williams, who added an ingredient the Roughriders’offence was missing for much of 2021 before Williams signed with the team last fall. Shaq Evans is back to full health. The offensive line should be improved. And there is no reason for the defence to have too much of a drop off in production with Darnell Sankey and Derrick Moncrief added to the mix.

While it’s not Grey Cup or bust for the Saskatchewan Roughriders this season, this is a big year for Fajardo.

From what he’s told me, he’s fully prepared to meet this season head on, knowing what’s at stake for he, his family and the organization.

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