VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BVM) – Last winter, longtime Canadian Football League (CFL) veteran quarterback Michael Reilly retired, leaving a vacancy at the starting quarterback position for the BC Lions. Reilly was a star for the Lions in 2021, leading the league in passing with 3,283 yards.
The team was quick to name 24-year-old quarterback Nathan Rourke its new starter following Reilly’s retirement, perhaps surprising to some as going all in on a young player rather than a proven veteran is relatively uncommon in the CFL.
However, after a record-setting start to the season where Rourke has been far and away the best player in the league, it appears the Lions made the right decision.
Following a strong showing in the preseason, Rourke and the Lions kicked off the 2022 campaign a couple of weeks ago against the Edmonton Elks, earning a dominating 59-15 victory. In his first action as the team’s full-time starter, Rourke completed his first six passes and threw a touchdown on the opening drive.
Impressively, Rourke went on to complete 26 of his 29 attempts throughout the game, throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. A dual-threat throughout his career, the quarterback also ran for an additional 78 yards and two scores. The Lions would go on to score a team-record 42 points in the first half, and their 59 total points were the third-best in franchise history.
“A 🇨🇦 QB can’t be a starter…” they said… 😏
– 11-play TD drive to start for @Nathan_Rourke
– 26/29 for 282 yards and 3 TD strikes
– 89.7 completion percentage (new CFL record for 🇨🇦 QBs)
– 7 carries for 78 yards & 2 majors#RoarLikeNeverBefore pic.twitter.com/yAOBdgGxzo
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) June 14, 2022
“It feels good,” Rourke said during a postgame press conference on June 12. “Definitely not expecting the score to go as high as it did, but I thought we were firing on all cylinders in terms of what we did offensively … You kind of hope that these things happen but you don’t really expect them to. It’s a nice surprise. Now we know what we’re capable of.”
Meanwhile, Rourke tied the Canadian record for total touchdowns in a game set by Russ Jackson in 1969, and he set a Canadian quarterback record by completing 89.7% of his passes.
Coming off a tremendous first week, Rourke did not slow down in the Lions’ next contest against Toronto, as BC dominated the Argonauts, 44-3. In the contest, the 6-foot-2 quarterback set the Canadian record for passing yards in a game with 436, a mark previously held for over four decades by Gerry Dattilio. Rourke added four touchdowns through the air, completing a franchise-best 39 of 45 passes.
— CFL (@CFL) June 26, 2022
— CFL (@CFL) June 27, 2022
“There wasn’t any questions within this locker room about anything about this team,” Rourke said in a postgame press conference following his record-setting performance. “Those guys have all the faith in me and that gives me so much confidence. There’s a lot of great things in that locker room and it’s a tribute to those guys … I’m really proud of them and proud to be a part of this team.
“I’m just a distributor of the football out there. Those guys are getting in the right positions and they’re making big plays for me.”
Through two games, Rourke has 718 yards passing, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 87% of his passes. The back-to-back CFL Top Performer of the Week has also added 93 yards rushing and a couple more scores on the ground as the Lions are off to their first 2-0 start since 2016.
It appears a special season might be brewing in British Columbia with potentially the best player in the CFL on their side. But looking back at Rourke’s past, his dazzling play should come as no surprise.
His gunslinger-mentality stems all the way back to when he was a little kid, idolizing Brett Favre while watching the Green Bay Packers. Rourke took that with him during high school at Holy Trinity in Oakville, Ontario. Eventually, he moved down to Alabama to play at Edgewood Academy, hoping to receive more notice from colleges in the states.
Despite a strong season in Alabama, Rourke had limited college options. He wound up playing at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas for a season, noting that he had a similar experience to some of the stars in the Netflix series, “Last Chance U.”
Throwing for 2,367 yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior college experience, Rourke again shined, and finally got his Division I opportunity the following year as he earned a scholarship to play at Ohio University. In 2017, he scored 38 total touchdowns, throwing for over 2,200 yards and rushing for 907.
He only got better in his junior and senior years, finishing his Bobcats career with 7,457 yards passing and 2,634 yards rushing, leading Ohio to three consecutive bowl games. His numbers were some of the best seen in the Mid-American Conference since Ben Roethlisberger played at Miami (OH).
As his younger brother, Kurtis, took over the reins at Ohio, Nathan looked to get his pro career going. Although eligible for the NFL draft in 2020, Nathan was not selected. He did earn a chance to work out with the New York Giants during the summer of 2021, but the plan to move Nathan from a quarterback to a wide receiver was a deterrent.
As a result, Nathan has found a home in the CFL after being selected 15th overall by the BC Lions in 2020. His first season of pro football was lost to the pandemic, but Nathan stepped in admirably as he started the Lions’ first 2021 contest in place of an injured Reilly, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Getting another start in the last week of the regular season, Nathan was the CFL’s Top Performer of the Week with 359 yards and four total touchdowns, showing the type of promise that has been on full display so far this year. Coming off a 5-9 record in 2021, head coach Rick Campbell has given Nathan a chance in 2022, and the results could not be better.
The Lions’ dynamic offense is enhanced by the likes of wide receivers such as Bryan Burnham, Keon Hatcher, and former NFL player Lucky Whitehead, as well as running back James Butler. Yet, Nathan continues to make the guys better around him with his tremendous play.
If the quarterback continues at this pace, he will likely not only be the CFL’s most outstanding player, but could also lead the Lions to their first Grey Cup in over a decade. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine NFL scouts are not starting to take notice of Nathan’s elite play in Canada.
Perhaps his long-awaited chance in the NFL will come soon enough. But for now, Nathan will look to continue his record-setting pace as he hopes to lead the Lions to the top. The team will take its show on the road as the Lions take on the Ottawa Redblacks Thursday, June 30 at 6:30 p.m. CT. The Lions’ next home contest will come the following week on Saturday, July 9 at 6:00 p.m. CT against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
One more look back at WEEK 3 🏈
We're on the road vs Ottawa this Thursday, then back home in the DEN on Saturday, July 9th at 4PM for our FAMILY DAY GAME.
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) June 27, 2022