Quarterback Cody Fajardo has led Servite High to the Southern Section Pac-5… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)
He has helped his team beat storied Long Beach Poly twice and knock off archrival Santa Ana Mater Dei for the first time in 21 years.
Tonight, he will try to lead Anaheim Servite High to its first Southern Section title since 1983.
So much for quarterback Cody Fajardo's being "under the radar."
That was the phrase reality television publicists used to describe Fajardo last summer, when the senior competed against seven mostly unheralded quarterbacks from across the country on a show called "The Ride."
Fajardo lasted only three episodes before being sacked.
But who needs reality TV when reality resembles a dream?
Third-seeded Servite (12-1) could advance to its first state championship bowl game with a victory tonight at Angel Stadium over top-seeded Huntington Beach Edison (13-0) in the Southern Section Pac-5 Division title game.
Fajardo will be in his element, preferring the big stage to the small screen.
"I like being the underdog so you can surprise a lot of people and turn a lot of people's heads," he said.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior might have given Servite fans whiplash last week in the fourth quarter of a semifinal against Mission Viejo.
His team needing to score with less than three minutes to play, Fajardo rolled to his left, slipped a tackle and heaved a pass across his body. The ball found receiver Rudy Guerrero streaking toward the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown and a 19-18 victory.
Fajardo's teammates weren't surprised. They have come to expect magic from a player who once bowled over a linebacker so ferociously in practice that Coach Troy Thomas made the defender wear the yellow jersey usually reserved for quarterbacks.
"He doesn't take hits," senior guard Nico Espinoza said of Fajardo. "He gives them."
The quarterback thought the joke was on him last summer when a producer contacted him about the reality show. The call came on a Tuesday, and the producer wanted to know whether Fajardo could be in Pennsylvania by Friday.
"I thought I was getting punk'd," he said.
After conferring with his family and Thomas, Fajardo decided it couldn't hurt to receive free instruction from quarterback coaches who had tutored NFL stars Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. He only wishes now he could have had more of it; he didn't survive the first round of cuts.
"The day they were deciding which quarterbacks to go to the next round, he had a little bit of an off day," said Steve Calhoun, Fajardo's private coach. "He just missed some throws and it didn't look like he was locked in mentally."
That hasn't been a problem over the last fourth months. Fajardo needs 175 yards to break Greg Cicero's single-season school record of 3,294 yards of total offense. He has completed 71.5% of his passes for 2,179 yards and 18 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He has also rushed for 941 yards and nine touchdowns.
It was clear to those who watched him develop that Fajardo was headed for stardom well before he put up those kind of numbers. As a sophomore, he could already command the attention of USC-bound seniors D.J. Shoemate and Matt Kalil in practice.
"The other quarterbacks, they wouldn't grab one of those guys and say, 'Hey, let's get in the huddle' because of their stature," said Calhoun, who was Servite's quarterbacks coach during the 2007 season. "But you could see Cody had something about him with his leadership and presence."
His vigor stems in part from his bloodlines. His grandfather was a Golden Gloves boxer who played fullback for Colorado, and his father Tim was a defensive end at Cerritos College and Texas Tech.
It was a sign of things to come when, as a freshman on the junior varsity team, Fajardo laid into a defender and broke his facemask.
"All the fans would say, 'That kid needs to learn how to slide and get out of bounds,' " Tim Fajardo recalled. "I would tell them, 'That's not this kid.' "
Fajardo acknowledges that he is driven by being perceived as a second-tier quarterback ignored by major college programs. He is being recruited by San Jose State and Central Michigan.
Thomas said he has heard a litany of excuses from recruiters, particularly from out-of-state coaches who say they plan to bring in quarterbacks closer to their schools. But Thomas wouldn't trade Fajardo for anyone.
"A lot of guys may look taller and throw a better ball and all those other things," Thomas said, "but when the heat's on, this guy performs and that's what you want in a quarterback."