Nathan Rourke ‘proud to represent Canadian quarterbacks,’ understands what his success could do for the CFL

Photo courtesy: CFL

Nathan Rourke embraces being a Canadian quarterback in the CFL.

It’s not new for him to play with that designation of being from north of the border at the most important position in the game.

Rourke spent one year as a starting QB at Edgewood Academy in Alabama where football is essentially religion, guiding the program to a 13-0 record, Class AA Alabama state championship and was named AISA All-Metro football player of the year in 2015.

He completed 75 percent of his passes for 3,779 yards and 59 touchdowns, which tied for the most ever by an Alabama high school player. He rushed for seven more touchdowns, putting him one shy of the state record for total touchdowns in a season.

After high school, Rourke attended Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. He passed for 2,367 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which earned him a first-team All KJCCC nod.

The dual-threat pivot finished his Ohio University career with a 24-13 record as a starting quarterback and was under centre for three-straight bowl victories. Ohio matched the University of Toledo (1969-1971) and Miami University (1973-1975) for the most consecutive bowl wins in Mid-American Conference history. 

Over three seasons with the Bobcats, Rourke produced 7,313 passing yards, 60 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions and 2,552 rushing yards with 48 touchdowns plus three receptions for 20 yards and two touchdowns — program-record 110 total touchdowns.

He was selected by the B.C. Lions in the second round, 15th overall during the 2020 CFL Draft, tying former New York Giants passer Jesse Palmer for the highest selected Canadian QB in league history.

“I am proud to represent Canadian quarterbacks. I was proud to do that in the NCAA and not any less proud up here, it’s a Canadian league,” Rourke said.

“I watched the Lions growing up, I understand what Canadian success does for the fans and for the league — I’m honoured to be a part of that.”

In Week 1, Rourke became the second youngest Canadian to start at quarterback in CFL history at 23 years and 74 days old. Legendary QB Russ Jackson holds the mark from October 25, 1958 when he started at 22 years and 89 days old. The six-foot-two, 210-pound signal caller is well aware of the stigma surrounding Canadian quarterbacks.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be a negative and a positive connotation. You’d like it to be just the best players playing. That’s what I hope it’s going to be,” Rourke said.

Due to a lingering elbow issue, Michael Reilly was unable to start against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and has been listed as the backup versus the Calgary Stampeders. It’s put Rourke in a position to run out with the offence for two straight games to begin his CFL career.

“We know we can win with Nathan Rourke,” Lions’ head coach Rick Campbell said.

“The experience is really good, I’m thankful. I didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as it did, but I’m thankful that it is because I know the way that things are turning out this year, it’s good for me to be able to contribute if I need to,” Rourke said.

Rourke played the entire first half, completing 6-of-11 passes for 119 yards with one touchdown against one interception, which was taken back for a major by Riders defensive back Nick Marshall.

With the Leos trailing 32-9 at halftime, Reilly entered the game to start the third quarter and played until there was just over four minutes left in the fourth. After Reilly felt he was gradually losing control of his accuracy, he returned to the sidelines and Rourke reentered the game.

“I’m probably annoying him at this point because of all the questions I’m asking. He’s run every kind of offence you can in the CFL,” Rourke said of his veteran teammate.

“He’s seen every look, he knows what the concepts are and how they work. I don’t know if there is a better situation for me to come in and learn from a guy like him.”

Rourke led a drive the next time B.C. had possession of the football. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 75 yards, including a perfectly placed throw to CFL all-star receiver Bryan Burnham in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown.

That strike to Burnham put the Lions within four points of Saskatchewan, 33-29. However, the comeback attempt stopped there. Defensive lineman A.C. Leonard intercepted Rourke on his final attempt of the contest.

At the end of two quarters and change, Rourke completed 10-of-18 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns versus two interceptions. Even though the Riders ran out to a 31-0 lead, he was never fazed by the raucous crowd, mistakes or shots he absorbed from the defence.

“Certainly you can measure your expectations a little bit better because without any games under your belt, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Rourke said. “Now you have a picture of what the speed is going to be like and what they’re going to be showing you.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.