Alouettes QB Cody Fajardo excited by challenge of defending CFL title

“I think our goal is set on repeating (as Grey Cup champions) and I believe this team has the opportunity to do that.”

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The optics and expectations have drastically changed for Cody Fajardo and the Alouettes from this time last winter, when both he and the team surrounding him were unknown quantities.

After the team seemingly emerged from nowhere to win the Grey Cup last season, much will be expected this year from the Als and starting quarterback Fajardo, who was named the championship game’s most valuable player.

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“What a crazy 365 days,” Fajardo said on a video conference call Monday from his winter home in Reno, Nev. “Sitting in this spot last year … I was just trying to prove myself in this league, to a new team. I’m excited that (general manager Danny Maciocia) has retained the core guys. The unfortunate thing about winning Grey Cups, you usually lose a lot of players. We didn’t lose a ton of guys to other teams in the CFL.

“What I thought we lacked in talent, we made up for in team camaraderie. Just having a locker room that’s so cohesive and together will help us fine-tune our talents on the field. We’re excited to go from the hunters to the hunted, with the bull’s-eye on our back. The expectations will be higher. People are probably going to have shorter leashes or patience for us.”

While Maciocia retained the majority of defensive players that carried the Als through the season, Montreal lost leading receiver Austin Mack to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons; rookie defensive-end Lwal Uguak, a first-round draft choice last year, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while both tailback William Stanback and defensive-tackle Almondo Sewell were granted their releases from the team. Stanback signed with B.C., while Sewell remains a free agent.

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Walter Fletcher returns to the Als and is expected to replace Stanback, while free-agent addition Tevin Jones should replace Mack. Dylan Wynn, Derek Wiggan and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund were added through free agency to bolster Montreal’s defensive line.

The Als turned their season around in mid September. After losing four consecutive games, dropping their record to 6-7, Montreal never lost another contest, going 14-7 overall. That included going into Toronto and defeating the Argonauts in the East Division final along with a come-from-behind 28-24 victory over Winnipeg in the Grey Cup.

It was a fairy-tale ending.

“We have to keep the momentum going,” Fajardo said. “I think our confidence is at an all-time high right now, coming off what we did last year. I think guys are excited about the opportunity of going out and defending the Grey Cup. It’s very hard to repeat. I think our goal is set on repeating and I believe this team has the opportunity to do that.”

Fajardo, signed from Saskatchewan in February 2023 to replace the departed Trevor Harris, passed for 3,847 yards last season along with 14 touchdowns while being intercepted 12 times in 15 complete games. But the 31-year-old saved his best for last, completing 21 of 26 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns as the Als upset the Blue Bombers in the title game. Fajardo led the Als on a seven-play, 83-yard drive, capped by a 19-yard scoring strike to Tyson Philpot, in the final seconds of regulation time.

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Fajardo was signed to a contract extension through the 2025 season in early December.

“We lost four straight and didn’t really bat an eyelash,” he said. “If things don’t start the way we expect, I know this team can crawl out of a hole and will have confidence doing it. When things are collapsing all around us and people are telling us we’re no good, this team knows how to handle that.

“This team wants to continue to prove,” Fajardo added. “We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder … they just got lucky and hot at the right time. This is a very talented team that knows how to play together and is a force.”

With the Als’ extended playoff run, Fajardo took two weeks off this winter instead of his standard one month before resuming his training regimen. He doesn’t begin throwing until March but has continued weightlifting and running, and believes he’s on schedule.

Montreal has a tough schedule, with three of its opening four games on the road, beginning with a Grey Cup rematch at Winnipeg on June 6. Training camp begins May 12 in St-Jérôme.

“This is a bit of uncharted waters,” Fajardo admitted. “Winning a Grey Cup and going into a season where all eyes will be on us. That’s an exciting thing. Now people will be talking positively about the Alouettes.”

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