Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke’s record-setting play with the B.C. Lions this season has led to speculation that he could make the jump to the NFL next year.
While he has dreamt of playing down south since watching Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers as a child, Rourke’s not letting his future become a distraction.
“NFL teams didn’t come calling when I got out of college and the B.C. Lions were a team that was willing to give me an opportunity and I owe to them my focus and my attention. I owe my teammates that, that effort that I promised to give at the beginning of the year and so my focus right now is on the team and winning games and being in the moment as best I can,” Rourke told TSN 1050.
“We’ll worry about that stuff in the off-season when the season is done and cross that bridge when we get there, but trying to just stay out of it as I can right now. I don’t want that to affect me mentally because like I said, it is something I’ve wanted a long time, I feel like it could be a distraction.”
Rourke is under contract with B.C. through 2023 but will be eligible to pursue the NFL after this season thanks to the CFL’s recently reimplemented NFL window.
The 24-year-old has played brilliantly all year, completing 81.3 percent of his passes for 2,418 yards, 21 touchdowns, and six interceptions over seven games. He leads the league in virtually every passing category and is on pace to break the single-season touchdown record (48) set by Doug Flutie in 1994.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes along with being the first Canadian quarterback to dominate at the professional level in decades but Rourke has handled it with maturity beyond his years.
“Yeah, but I think a lot of the pressure comes externally. Certainly what I’m focused on is what we have here in the locker room and winning games for the Lions and it certainly has been a transition to deal with all of that outside noise but at the end of the day that’s exactly what it is — it’s noise — and trying to keep focus on the right things.”
Rourke transferred to Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Ala. for his final year of high school with the hopes of garnering a Division I college scholarship. When he didn’t receive any offers, he attended Fort Scott Community College for a year before Ohio University brought him in as a JUCO transfer. He soon rewrote the record books with the Bobcats and won back-to-back Jon Cornish Trophies as the top Canadian football player in the NCAA.
The six-foot-one, 210-pound passer hopes that his unconventional path to success at the professional level can help inspire more young Canadians to pursue the quarterback position.
“It’s unfortunate that coming up here it is such a rarity with all of the athletes that it seems like Canada is producing — in football or otherwise — that quarterback isn’t really something that we’ve had in a long time. I definitely didn’t go the traditional route but I definitely felt like I’ve always been proud to be Canadian. I don’t exactly know why it’s such a weird thing or a unique thing to be, but nevertheless, I’m proud about it and excited about all the possibilities that this could bring for Canadian football and the CFL.”
Rourke’s inspiration growing up came from south of the border where he watched Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers achieve perennial success in the tough NFC North. He has tried to model aspects of his game after the Hall of Fame passer, while also working hard to protect the football.
“He was the guy that made me want to play quarterback. I wore his No. 4 growing up to try to emulate him and obviously growing up when you start to learn a little more about football, you understand that you probably don’t want to take all the risks and throw all the interceptions that he did, but he was such an entertaining player to watch,” said Rourke.
“He has so much fun, it was very easy to see that he was enjoying himself and having fun with his teammates and that’s something that I really want to make sure translates to my game is that I’m having fun with my teammates and am fun to watch as well.”
That isn’t to say Rourke wasn’t also a fan of the CFL as a child. He attended a number of Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts games while growing up in Oakville, Ont. and played at Ivor Wynne Stadium as a member of the Burlington Minor Football Association. His favourite CFL team was always the Lions, however, a choice he made due to his birthplace of Victoria, B.C.
“I was always a B.C. Lions fans growing up. I remember watching in 2011 when Travis Lulay and Geroy Simon led them to a Grey Cup championship in BC Place, I always thought that was really, really cool that they were able to win it in their home stadium. In terms of the CFL, I was always hoping that the team out west would win.”
Rourke is hoping to lead the Lions to similar success in 2022 and is off to a strong start with the team at 6-1. Assuming the rest of this season goes well, he may yet get an opportunity to strive for similar success in the NFL in 2023 and beyond.