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Fajardo relishing ‘second chance’ season with Alouettes as 110th Grey Cup nears

Cody Fajardo Montreal Alouettes Cody Fajardo - The Canadian Press

HAMILTON – On a sunny May in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Cody Fajardo found himself surrounded by reporters fielding questions about his first day as the Montreal Alouettes’ de facto No. 1 quarterback as the team opened training camp.

"Bonjour," he said with a beaming smile.

After some polite back-and-forth with the Montreal media, flaunting off some of the local language he picked up and how he likes his bagel with "fromage" and "miel" in his tea, Fajardo echoed a message from head coach Jason Maas that stuck with him, "They're [Alouettes fans] are embracing us in the community and we want to be a part of the community."

"As an American, I'm thankful to be in the CFL," Fajardo continued. "First year with the Als, so I want to do everything I can do to immerse myself amongst this community even if I sound like a rookie with French,” he said laughing.

That laugh spoke volumes about how excited Fajardo was to be in Montreal with a fresh start.

After setting the league on fire in his second season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2019, finding himself leading the league in passing with 4,302 yards and firmly entrenched in the Most Outstanding Player conversation, neither Fajardo nor the Riders could capture that lightning in a bottle again.

The Roughriders fell to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Final that season and again a year after following the pandemic-cancelled 2020 season.

Last season, the Riders had their worst record since 2015, going 6-12, with Fajardo finding himself on the bench for the Riders' final two regular-season games as the writing on the wall hinted that his time with the Green and White was coming to an unceremonious end.

"Everyone knows what happened last year. I had a down year,” he said. “I'm looking to proving all the haters wrong... It's not very many times where you get a second chance, and I feel I have a second chance here."

Fast forward through the 2023 regular season chalk full of highs and lows, the 31-year-old Brea, Calif., native reflected on his first season in Montreal on Wednesday ahead of the 110th Grey Cup against the Blue Bombers.

"The biggest one for me was learning where to live, I think was the hardest thing for me," Fajardo said laughing on the biggest culture shock he encountered this season.

"Apparently, there's a move-in day that I found out not until I got there that is July 1, and our season stars in June.”

“So that was really difficult, and then learning the metro system was the second difficult thing. But once I got that down, I understood I can get anywhere in the city. And at first it was kind of an inconvenience, and now it's a complete convenience for me."

"I was a little nervous not having a car," he continued. "There's still a lot of things I'm still learning, French included. But the city has been so great. And it's been just such a beautiful city to have my family come up. I've been fortunate enough to be in Toronto, Vancouver, Sask. (Saskatchewan), and now in Montreal. I feel like I'm seeing the best cities that Canada has to offer."

Fajardo broke into the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts in 2016 and played two seasons with them, winning a Grey Cup title with Ricky Ray and the Double Blue in 2017. He later played a seasons with the BC Lions in 2018 before heading to the prairies and playing three seasons for the Roughriders (2019, 2021-22).

Given all the movement he's had in his career, the past season in particular, Fajardo talked about how difficult life can be being a husband, a family man, and the father to a young son while in Montreal.

"It's very difficult. And the hardest thing is more CFL than it is Montreal” he said. "And it's been like that my whole career. But now having a young son (and) I’ve see my wife twice, two times this year in six months. And that's extremely difficult."

"But the sacrifices my wife makes to allow me to come up here and play a game and still do this for a living, that's when you take the field proud...And that's what I'm so thankful for, for my wife, who works a full-time job. Who spends all the time with our son at home – I was there to help out and wish I could see them every day. But the sacrifices she makes allows me to go out there and play freely."

Harking back to how Fajardo labelled the 2023 season as one of redemption, having reached the Grey Cup now, he feels he's accomplished exactly that.

"Without a doubt," he said. "And the job’s not finished and, obviously, you want to win a Grey Cup."

"One of the big things I changed mentally this year was trying to prove all the people that believed in me right as opposed to all the people that don't believe me wrong... When I got into the year it was like, I don't want to focus on the wrong things and exhaust myself trying to make everybody like me."

"It's taken a lot of weight off my shoulders," Fajardo continued, "It's allowed me to go out there and play freely."

Fajardo posted his second-best season in the CFL with the Alouettes this year, throwing for 3,847 yards and 14 touchdowns. Come kickoff Sunday, when he's standing on the turf at Tim Hortons Field, he admitted it might get emotional given all he's been though.

"The national anthem is very close to me and it's probably the most nervous I get at any point," he said. "Sometimes tears come out just because it's beautifully sung and I'm very proud to be in Canada and in a country that allows me to play football. If it wasn't for the CFL, I wouldn't be playing football."