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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor
Nathan Rourke’s past experience has him ready to take over as starter for BC Lions

Nathan Rourke’s past experience has him ready to take over as starter for BC Lions

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BVM) – Football has always been in Nathan Rourke’s blood. From playing locally in Ontario growing up to now becoming a starting quarterback in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the BC Lions, the sport has always been his greatest passion during what has been a long, and at times, tough journey.

That journey began as a little kid, idolizing one Hall of Fame quarterback specifically: Brett Favre.

“I got really interested in a particular highlight reel video of Brett Favre,” Rourke said. “In 1996, when the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, they had a season recap and I kind of watched that on repeat for a few years. That made me really want to pursue the sport. I was really taken by Brett Favre and he’s been my favorite player.”

Naturally, Rourke began playing quarterback during his early years of organized football. Playing with the Burlington Minor Football Association, Rourke’s teams rarely lost during his youth with plenty of talent on the squad.

One of those talented players within the program was Rourke’s younger brother, Kurtis, who has followed in the path of his older brother, currently playing quarterback for the Ohio Bobcats.

Nathan Rourke has served as a mentor to his younger brother, Kurtis, who has followed his footsteps as a QB at Ohio University. (Credit: BC Lions)

“It’s been really special to have the relationship that I have with Kurtis,” Nathan said. “To have his passion be my passion, it’s really cool to be able to talk ball with someone like your brother. It’ll be fun to watch him develop, he’s taken a different route than I have … I think the sky’s the limit for him. He should get every opportunity in the world to play at the professional level. Down the road, I would love to have some type of Manning-type rivalry with him and be able to play against each other.”

By high school, Nathan began playing for Holy Trinity in Oakville, Ontario. While he had some good seasons there, he was not receiving much of any college interest. As a result, the quarterback and his family went down to Alabama for a season where Nathan played at Edgewood Academy.

“The goal heading into high school was to get recruited and go to a Division I school,” Nathan said. “I had a successful year in my junior year at Holy Trinity. We won as much as we could and were the No. 2-ranked team in the country at the time … It didn’t really seem to mean much to coaches down south, everything that we had accomplished.

“There was an opportunity that was presented to us to play at a school in Alabama and just kind of jumped at it figuring that we would be at the heart of high school football and get a chance to play in front of some college coaches’ backyards. Took the opportunity to do that and that was quite the experience.”

Nathan produced a nice senior season in Alabama, but still, no college offers came about. As a result, he went on to play his first collegiate season at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, again doing anything he could to gain some exposure.

After a season at Fort Scott Community College, Nathan Rourke finally got his chance to play Division I football with the Ohio Bobcats. (Credit: BC Lions)

“National signing day came and went my senior year and at that point, we’re like we don’t really know what the next step is,” Nathan said. “Kind of figured we’d get an offer at that point and so it was super disappointing. But at that point we started considering junior colleges … We were fortunate enough to attract the attention of Fort Scott. 

“I felt confident that they were going to give me an opportunity to show that I deserve to be the starter there. It was quite the experience. I don’t know if you have seen ‘Last Chance U,’ but it was very similar to that experience.”

The junior college experience was unique and at times grueling for Nathan. Yet, his play on the field impressed again as he threw for 2,367 yards and 18 touchdowns, and his passion for the game continued to increase. From there, the quarterback finally got his look from a Division I school: Ohio University.

At Ohio, Nathan became a star and someone who Bobcat fans will not soon forget. In his first season in 2017, Nathan took over the starting role early in the season, passing for over 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns over the course of the year. But what really made the Ontario native dynamic was his legs, rushing for 907 yards and an additional 21 scores.

Nathan continued to post similar rushing totals during his junior and senior seasons, and increased his passing totals to 2,434 and 2,820, respectively. His 7,457 career passing and 2,634 career rushing yards are marks that truly standout. The quarterback was also an absolute winner during his time in Athens, leading the Bobcats to three consecutive bowl wins, being named MVP of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in his final collegiate contest.

“It was a great run,” Nathan said. “It’s a great school and it was a great fit for my skill set. We had some very, very good teams and did a lot of things that I was very proud of … I really felt that every single year I was getting better as a player and better as a quarterback. You can’t really ask much more from that standpoint. They really helped me develop and gain the experience that I needed to make the goal of playing professionally a reality.”

One of the highlights of Nathan’s career was also winning the inaugural Jon Cornish Trophy – given to the top NCAA performer from Canada annually – in 2017, and going back-to-back by winning the award in 2018 as well.

“It’s a pretty cool award,” Nathan said. “In 2017, it was the first time they had done it and it’s come a long way since then … I’m very proud to be a part of that group that has expanded what Canadian high school students can do at the next level.”

Nathan Rourke was selected No. 15 overall by the BC Lions in the 2020 CFL Draft. (Credit: BC Lions)

After his time at Ohio, Nathan was looking to get to the next level himself. There was some thought he may latch on somewhere in the NFL prior to the 2020 season. However, he went undrafted and did not receive much interest. 

Last summer, Nathan did finally get a chance to attend minicamp with the New York Giants. But, rather than allowing him to audition at quarterback, the Giants wanted him to play receiver – a position he has never played before – which was not something the quarterback wanted.

“The NFL experience was very frustrating, it was very difficult,” Nathan said. “Obviously, you feel like at the time that you’ve put in all the time and you hope that somebody just gives you a chance. It’s frustrating even now knowing that I haven’t gotten that yet.

“I thought I finally had an opportunity in 2021 to go down to the Giants and to throw the ball around in front of them and that just didn’t happen. They saw what I did in college and didn’t see any of it translating to the NFL. They saw my athleticism instead and thought that would be better suited to play a position I had never played before.”

Despite the frustration, it remains Nathan’s ultimate goal to play quarterback in the NFL someday.

“My goal since I was a child was to play in the NFL, it still is,” he added. “If something happens down the line with the NFL, then that’ll be something that we think about at that point.”

For right now, however, Nathan still has a tremendous opportunity in professional football. In the 2020 CFL Draft, the 6-foot-2 quarterback was selected 15th overall by the BC Lions. After his rookie season was canceled due to COVID-19, Nathan finally got his chance to start the first game of the 2021 season, filling in for injured quarterback Michael Reilly.

After a strong close to the 2021 season, Nathan Rourke is hoping to lead the BC Lions to success in 2022. (Credit: BC Lions)

Throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns in his first career game, Nathan would not start again until the final game of the season, where he vastly improved, throwing for 359 yards and a touchdown while adding another three scores on the ground as the CFL Top Performer of the Week.

“It’s been great, I’ve been very fortunate to be in a really good situation,” Nathan said about his time thus far with the Lions. “The front office and the ownership have a very good grip on the direction that this organization is going and they’re passionate about it which I think is key. It’s contagious in the building … We’re looking forward to turning this thing around a little bit.

“I think I showed a lot of improvement. I got very fortunate from a personal standpoint that the starter, Mike Reilly, I was able to watch him and observe him. He’s a guy who’s played in the CFL for a long time and had a lot of success … I was able to watch him, see how his process works and what it takes to be a professional and be successful at it. But he also had some injuries so I was able to take some reps with the ones … I was very, very grateful that the organization gave me a chance to start the last game and kind of show them how well I’ve improved and what the future might be like.”

The future is now for the BC Lions. Over the offseason, Reilly retired, paving the way for Nathan to become the full-time starter. Last month, he was officially named to the role. 

“I just put my head down and kept working like I was going to be the starter which is the way that I’ve always prepared,” Nathan said. “I found out just a couple of hours before the Lions made the announcement. I was pretty excited, I was pretty pumped up. It’s pretty cool to get that kind of vote of confidence from the organization.” 

Nathan will also play alongside fellow Canadian QB Michael O’Connor. Surprisingly, Canadian quarterbacks are not all that common in the CFL, and this is actually believed to be the first time in the modern era that a CFL team has had a starter and a backup who were both from Canada. With the two already having a strong relationship, Nathan and O’Connor are excited to make history.

“I’m very excited to work with Michael O’Connor,” Nathan said. “When I heard that BC was one of the places he might land, I was very excited about that. The chemistry within the quarterback room is really important.”

While he’ll still look to achieve his NFL dreams at some point, Nathan now has the chance to become a true leader of the Lions’ organization. It’s been a winding road to get to this point, but that experience is bound to lead the quarterback to success now and in the future.

“I think that we’ve made some really big moves in terms of free agency and we’ve brought a lot of our core guys back from last year,” Nathan said. “I really feel like the time for us to win is sooner rather than later, and that’s been the buzz around the facilities as well. We’re primed and ready to go. That’s really exciting because I get to contribute to that and be a part of that. I think we would be selling ourselves short if we didn’t say that we were looking for a Grey Cup. We haven’t won one in BC since 2011 and that’s a little too long for our liking. I think that this organization and the fans of the BC Lions deserve one. This is a very difficult league to win in, but I think we’re going to be a very good team.”

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