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Fab frosh Fajardo keeps Nevada’s pistol firing

Jason Kaneshiro

Cody Fajardo walked into Aloha Stadium last year and thought of the players who’d passed through over the years — one quarterback in particular.

"Just knowing the Pro Bowl was held there and someone like Brett Favre, one of my idols, was probably in one of the lockers in the locker room was a pretty cool feeling," Fajardo said.

Before a few weeks ago, Fajardo’s football cards featuring Favre in a Southern Mississippi uniform might have been the extent of his familiarity with the Golden Eagles.

The Nevada freshman quarterback will get an up-close look when the Wolf Pack face Favre’s old school in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

SHERATON HAWAII BOWL

» Who: No. 22 Southern Mississippi (11-2) vs. Nevada (7-5)

» Where: Aloha Stadium

» When: 3 p.m. Saturday

» TV: ESPN

 

Fajardo was sitting out a redshirt season when he was part of Nevada’s travel party for last year’s game against Hawaii. The Western Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year makes the first of what could be multiple on-field appearances at Aloha Stadium on Saturday.

"Just to make a bowl game your freshman year is a good feeling," Fajardo said. "It’s a privilege to make a bowl game; not every team makes it, so we’re happy to be here."

Fajardo helped Nevada earn its seventh consecutive postseason appearance after moving into the starting job in the fifth week of the season. Following a 1-3 start, Nevada reeled off five straight wins, a streak capped by a 42-28 win over Hawaii in Reno in which he accounted for four touchdowns (one rushing and three passing).

A shot at the WAC title slipped away with back-to-back four-point losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State. Fajardo suffered an ankle injury against Utah State and senior Tyler Lantrip led Nevada to a 56-3 win over Idaho to close the regular season.

Nevada head coach Chris Ault said Fajardo, who ran for 11 touchdowns and threw for six while completing 71 percent of his throws in the regular season, will again be the starter for the Hawaii Bowl.

"Especially against a good team like Southern Miss, it’s a good opportunity for us and for myself to go against a quality opponent," Fajardo said.

Fajardo said he had some contact with Hawaii coaches early in the recruiting process while attending Servite (Calif.) High School, where he earned numerous accolades as a junior and senior. But the parties went in different directions as UH received a commitment from another quarterback and Fajardo ultimately signed with Nevada.

"I respect that," Fajardo said. "No hard feelings, not at all."

Fajardo spent the 2010 season watching Colin Kaepernick operate the pistol offense and the redshirt year helped him pick up some of the system’s nuances, which he applied when he took over in place of Lantrip in midseason.

His newfound status meant taking control of a huddle that included five senior starters and two juniors.

"You’ve got your offensive linemen who are all older than you and they’re like ‘oh man, this freshman kid is in there,’ " Fajardo said. "What I tried to do is you just have to show confidence. You have to show them you’ve got confidence in yourself as well as them, and then build from that. And then they start to respect you."

Fajardo earned the respect of the WAC’s coaches, who voted him the league’s top freshman, and will likely remain a familiar figure for Hawaii fans as the Warriors and Wolf Pack move to the Mountain West Conference next year.

The Hawaii Bowl trip gives Fajardo a few more practices and one more game to further hone his command of the offense while also offering a little more time to enjoy island life than in his last visit.

"This is the first time I’ve been here for a week. Last year, we were here for a day and a half," Fajardo said. "It’s been a lot of fun. I’m from Orange County, so I like the beach a lot."

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