Canadian QB Nathan Rourke admits ‘risk’ returning early from Lisfranc surgery, wants to show CFL success can translate to NFL

Photo courtesy: BC Lions/Jaclyn McKee

Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke travelled to Regina to accept the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian award despite the effect air travel had on his injured foot.

“My foot doesn’t do well with flights and not being elevated. It’s pretty swollen after the Winnipeg game, so that’s why I’m limping around a little bit,” Rourke said. 

The 24-year-old entered the season as a first-time starter and carved up the CFL for nine weeks, establishing a record-setting statistical pace while leading the B.C. Lions to an 8-1 record. He finished the year completing 78.7 percent of his passes for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 games played, adding 39 carries for 304 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Rourke’s season-long trajectory was halted in Week 11 when he suffered a Lisfranc sprain to his right foot, which required surgery. The six-foot-two, 209-pound pivot returned to the field quicker than most thought possible, playing a quarter in the team’s regular-season finale before starting both of B.C.’s playoff games.

“I think there is always a risk, that’s the way the surgeon explained it to me. There was always a risk and the risk decreased as we went along with the process,” Rourke said.

“We take calculated risks all the time in football and in life. I thought that I can help the team out and I wanted to be back if I could. They allowed me to do that, but I had to jump through several hoops. It wasn’t like I was pushing them, they were really allowing me to do things week by week and on a day-to-day basis.”

In two postseason starts, the dual-threat QB completed 62 percent of his passes for 621 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He led the Lions to a 30-16 victory in the West Semi-Final over the Calgary Stampeders but lost 28-20 to the Blue Bombers in the West Final the following week.

“(My foot) still wasn’t exactly where I wanted it, to be honest, at the West Final but I gave it my best shot. It was certainly pain management but it was more so management on the tendons and on the foot itself,” Rourke said.

Rourke remains under contract with the Lions for next season, although the team wants to sign him to a long-term extension. All CFL players are permitted to depart for the NFL via the window that was established in 2019, so he is eligible to pursue opportunities down south regardless of his status north of the border.

Over two-thirds of NFL teams have shown interest in the Victoria, B.C. native. He has two workouts scheduled for November 21 and 22, respectively, with more likely to come.

“I never got an opportunity to play quarterback at the NFL level. And I think I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this game, hopefully years from now, knowing that I never gave myself that chance or gave myself that look, so that’s why we’re doing it this way,” Rourke said. 

“I think the biggest thing is just being able to show them in person what they see on tape. They’re going to do their due diligence and they’re going to be able to know what kind of player I am. I just hope that I can show that my game in the CFL can translate.” 

Born in Victoria, B.C. and raised in Oakville, Ont., the Ohio University graduate set a single-season CFL completion percentage record and posted the second-highest passer rating of all-time at 123.6. He threw for over 400 yards on three occasions, setting a new single-game passing record by a Canadian with a 488-yard performance in Week 10.

“I just hope that moving forward — it’s certainly showing you with players like myself and Tre Ford getting opportunities this year — that Canadian quarterbacks are continuing to be given opportunities not because of where they come from,” Rourke said. 

“Seriously, when I came into this league, initially people were like, ‘Be careful the way they treat Canadian quarterbacks.’ I got lucky enough not to go to an organization that puts a lot of weight in that. Hopefully, that continues and hopefully, the league can continue to value Canadians,” he said.

“At a certain point, grouping Canadian quarterbacks differently than Americans is detrimental to a certain extent. Development needs to start at an earlier level. There’s room for growth, I’m not sure exactly how that’s to be done, but I certainly like to think that we’re helping with the product we put on the field.”

If Rourke does blaze his unique path to the NFL, he’s left the three-down league in a much better place while helping change the way Canadian quarterbacks are viewed in the CFL.

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