Ivon Padilla-Rodríguez, who was homeless when she was 16, is a woman with big dreams. She is majoring in history and philosophy of ethics, law and politics. She wants to become a lawyer, a federal judge and, ultimately, a Supreme Court justice.
She was among thousands of college students across the country who submitted a video for Dr Pepper’s Tuition Throw Contest, in which she was chosen one of five finalists.
One problem: Padilla-Rodríguez had no idea how to throw a football.
Enter Fajardo, who was a redshirt freshman and the Wolf Pack’s starting quarterback back in 2011.
“I got a message on Facebook,” Fajardo recalled, “and this girl on campus said, ‘Hey, I got invited to do the Dr Pepper Challenge but I have no idea how to throw a football. Is there any way you can find time to help me?’ We went out there and spent about two weeks together and I taught her how to grip it, how to throw it.”
At the 2011 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, Padilla-Rodríguez and the other finalists tossed footballs through a small hole in an oversized Dr Pepper can located 5 yards away. She reached the finals and won the $100,000 first prize.
“I know she came from a rough background and her family was struggling to pay for her college and she wanted to go to law school,” Fajardo said. “Just being a part of that, she thanks me to death for helping her. That was a pretty awesome achievement.”
Fajardo had a bunch of awesome achievements at Nevada. Facing the unenviable task of replacing Colin Kaepernick, Fajardo joined Kaepernick in the NCAA record book as the only quarterbacks in FBS history to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards. He started 43 games and finished with 65.1 percent marksmanship, 9,659 yards and 57 touchdowns through the air and 3,482 yards and 44 more scores on the ground.
Given that Fajardo replaced Kaepernick and then put up similar numbers running the same offense, the comparisons have been natural and never-ending.
“The hardest thing for me to do was, his senior year, we went 13-1 and were like seventh in the nation,” Fajardo said. “I walked in as a redshirt freshman and all the fans and all the media are expecting another great year and I’m playing my first-ever collegiate snap. So, that was the hardest thing for me was following in his 13-1 season footsteps. After that, I told the media, ‘I want to be my own player.’ It’s a complete honor, don’t get me wrong, to be compared to Kaep with the things he did in college and he’s done in the NFL, and I’m very humbled to be compared to him. At the same time, you want to be your own player and you don’t want to be in someone’s shadows your whole career.”
Fajardo’s success came running Nevada’s vaunted pistol offense. Once just a niche collegiate scheme, the pistol has spread to the NFL. The Packers incorporated some pistol into their offense, then expanded its usage when Aaron Rodgers was limited with an injured calf.
Still, by spending his collegiate career in the shotgun, Fajardo has had to show scouts he can make plays from under center, as well. At the NFLPA all-star game, he was coached by ex-NFL quarterback Jim Zorn, the former head coach of the Redskins and current quarterbacks coach of the Chiefs. He’s worked extensively on his mechanics with Steve Calhourn, who has worked with Cam Newton, E.J. Manuel and Mike Glennon, among others, and the X’s and O’s of the game with Bill Cunerty, a national champion junior-college coach who has worked with Mike Holmgren.
“The all-star game was huge because I got live reps being under center and having a defense out there,” Fajardo said. “That was one of my main things. The hardest thing for me in that transition was we ran the West Coast offense with Jim Zorn. One play call was like 16 words long. A lot of these quarterbacks nowadays are used to looking to the sideline and getting the play. When he said it to me, it sounded like a whole other language.”
As Fajardo’s statistics suggest, he’s a terrific dual-threat quarterback. At the Scouting Combine, the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder ran his 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds — a time beaten by only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Alabama’s Blake Sims among the quarterbacks. He feels like he answered some scouts’ questions with his long-ball accuracy at pro day.
Fajardo said he is looking to throw when he’s on the move.
“I just want to extend the play,” he said. “A lot of times, when you’re a run threat, a lot of defenses kind of panic. When you break the pocket and start to run, the defensive backs and safeties will come up and try to make the play, and that opens up the receivers down the field. A lot of the big plays happen on scramble drills, when you’re running around back there and guys are able to get open. It’s really hard to ask a DB to cover a guy for 4 or 5 seconds when you’re running around back there. That’s what my mentality is. Now, if there’s a blown protection and a guy’s coming right through, a lot of times you’re going to try to make that guy miss and get as many yards as you can.”
Fajardo, who is considered the seventh-best quarterback in this class and a potential fifth- or sixth-round pick by the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, said he talked to Packers scouts at his recent pro day as well as the Scouting Combine. He wouldn’t mind landing in Green Bay, which has done extensive work on this quarterbacks class in hopes of adding to the tandem of Rodgers and Scott Tolzien.
“Growing up as a kid, I was the biggest Green Bay Packers fan,” he said. “My father was a big Packers fan. I have signed Brett Favre jerseys, helmet. I was a huge Brett Favre fan. I even have a Cheesehead. Being a West Coast kid, that was the team I looked up to growing up. Obviously at this time, you’ve got to be a fan of all 32 teams but definitely growing up the Packers were the team I rooted for.”
Of course, Fajardo’s not going to be picky. He’s been working toward his dream of playing in the NFL for as long as he can remember. In about three weeks, those dreams will come true with one ring of his cell phone.
“I’ve told as many people as I can, ‘If you have a weird number, do not call me,’” Fajardo said. “Any little call and it’s ‘Whose number is this?’ I’m going to be pumped to answer it. Like you said, it’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. The fact that it’s almost here, how can you not be excited or fired up? I just want to be able to play professional football and hopefully become a great NFL quarterback.”email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.