March 5, 2024

‘We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder’: Fajardo, Als have something to prove in 2024

PHOTO Pascal Ratthe, Collaboration Spéciale - Quebec, Quebec Sebastien Tanguay, directeur general de l'incubateur Le Camp - / Friday/ 15/ September/ 2023 - # P-POR-2023-09-08-37142

Circumstances change quickly in football. How quick? Just ask Montreal Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo.

At this time last year, Fajardo was less than one month removed from signing with the Als as a free agent. Cast aside by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he was looking for a fresh in the CFL. Montreal became a natural fit for him, after the team hired his former offensive coordinator Jason Maas to be their next head coach, and Trevor Harris walked away in free agency.

The 2023 season had its share of challenges. Fajardo missed two games due to injury and the team dropped four games in a row between late August and mid-September. But football is a results-oriented business, and the bottom line is that the Alouettes won the 110th Grey Cup and Fajardo was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“What a crazy difference 365 days make,” Fajardo admitted during a conference call with the media on Monday afternoon. “Sitting in this spot last year, I was just trying to prove myself in this league. I was trying to prove myself to a new team.”

Years from now, all anyone will remember about the 31-year-old’s 2023 season is his scintillating performance in the Grey Cup, but he also led the league in completion percentage during the regular season at 71.6 percent.

The challenge the Alouettes and Fajardo will have in 2024 is that they’ll need to replicate the success they had on the field last year while having a target on their back.

“We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” Fajardo explained. “We don’t want to be a team that people think got lucky and hot at the right time. This is a very talented team that knows how to win and play together and that’s a force. Any team that is playing against us, home or away, we want them to know that they’re going to be in for a dog fight for four quarters. This team is going to give it everything they’ve got for four quarters and 18 games straight.”

Keeping a championship team together in any sport is difficult, but it’s especially challenging in the CFL because a good number of players are on one-year contracts. On paper, it appears as though the Alouettes are equipped to contend for another Grey Cup title.

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“We have a ton of guys that were retained,” the Als pivot said of a squad that is bringing back 19 of 24 starters. “Offensively, we returned four of our five receiving starters, everybody on the offensive line is set to return. We lost (William) Stanback, but (Walter) Fletcher is a guy who I’ve shared the backfield with, as well as Jeshrun (Antwi). We have a lot of carryover…Going into this year, it will allow me to have deeper conservations with guys to have more of a connection and more of a relationship where you can get on guys a little bit more. You can tell them: ‘Hey, you’re not giving me enough,’ or ‘hey, you’re doing a great job’. It really is beneficial for a team in the CFL that is so based on one-year contracts, to retain a lot of guys from a Grey Cup year.”

The Alouettes will open their 2024 season with a Grey Cup rematch in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers on June 6. They’ll open their home schedule against the Ottawa Redblacks on June 20.