The B.C. Lions are ready for the post-Michael Reilly era.
After Reilly made his retirement official, head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell named Canadian Nathan Rourke the club’s starting quarterback entering the 2022 CFL season.
“Our plan is that Nathan will be the starter. We would like to add a veteran CFL quarterback to the mix, I would look at it as a 1 and 1A situation,” Campbell said.
“The idea would be to go to training camp — not as an open competition — give Nathan every opportunity to go, but bring in a proven quarterback.”
Campbell has a long-standing relationship with Trevor Harris from three campaigns spent together in Ottawa with the Redblacks. Harris is currently a free agent, but the Lions have not had any contract negotiations with him, yet, according to Campbell.
“No, we were letting this Mike thing play out. We want to be aggressive over these next few weeks, whether that’s someone before free agency or the guys that are coming out in free agency,” he said.
“As we know it always takes two quarterbacks to get it done, so we’ve done some homework on that. We’ll be at work trying to find some one to come in here that knows the CFL game.”
The Lions are high on Rourke after he was selected in the second round, 15th overall during the 2020 CFL Draft. He spent his rookie season learning from Reilly while dressing in all 14 regular season games, completing 63 percent of his passes for 754 yards with three touchdowns against five interceptions and carrying the ball 18 times for 111 yards (6.2 yards per carry) with five majors on the ground.
The 23-year-old started two games recording a 1-1 win-loss record.
“The best trait, the thing I like about him as a quarterback, he’s so consistent in his work ethic and how he shows up everyday,” Campbell said.
“He literally, I know it’s a little bit of a cliche for backup quarterbacks, but they say to prepare like you’re the starter even if you’re not. He actually does that every single day when he shows up here, I just don’t see him changing much.”
The six-foot-two, 209-pound QB played the entire game in Week 16 last year against Edmonton. Rourke completed 23-of-34 passes (68 percent) for 359 yards with one touchdown versus two interceptions and added seven carries for 34 yards plus three majors on the ground, leading the Lions to a 43-10 win.
“That last game of the year against Edmonton you saw a good dose of what he can be. He just needs to do his thing and we’re going to try to add as many good players to this team as we can,” Campbell said.
“It’s exciting, he’s young, he’s energetic, he’s hungry, he’s competitive, he shows all the signs to be a good player in this league and we want to give him that opportunity.”
The Victoria, B.C. native is entering the second year of his three-year rookie contract. If he maxes out the possible earnings on his agreement, Rourke will count $78,999.88 against the salary cap. That gives the Lions a unique ability to invest finances towards surrounding the national signal-caller with quality talent.
“We plan on being aggressive and getting guys in here that want to be a part of this. We think we’re a team on the rise and these next few weeks will be big for us to get some more of our own guys back that we’re working on and acquiring some guys from some other teams,” Campbell said.
The most explosive playmaker in the league has been re-signed by the Lions, Lucky Whitehead. Meanwhile, four-time league all-star receiver Bryan Burnham, who has spent his entire seven-year CFL career to date with B.C., is a pending free agent. However, Campbell made it seem as though the Lions want to bring him back.
“We’d be lucky to have him back. We’ll see how that all works out, he’s a good football player, we like him,” Campbell said.
If Burnham returns to the Lions, it would give Rourke two high-calibre targets in his first season as the starter with B.C.