BC Lions quarterback eyes NFL opportunity

BC Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke dealt with a serious foot injury halfway through the 2022 CFL season, but his performance on the field in 10 games as a CFL starter was still enough to turn heads both in Canada and the US

Born in Victoria, Rourke led the Lions to an 8-1 record before being sidelined with a Lisfranc sprain that required surgery on his right foot.

He returned for part of the final game of the season, started the Lions two playoff games — a 30-16 win over Calgary and a 28-20 semifinal loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — and earned the CFL’s award for Most Outstanding Canadian.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefterafter Toronto and Winnipeg wrap up the Gray Cup on Sunday, Rourke will be heading to work out with a few teams south of the border.

“I never had a true opportunity at the NFL level, not as a quarterback,” Rourke told reporters during a season wrap up interview on Nov. 15. “That’s been something I’ve wanted to at least try for a very long time.”

“[I’m] fortunate enough to have an opportunity and try to see where that goes… understanding that I still have a heck of an opportunity here with the Lions.”

While Rourke is under contract with BC until 2023, the CFL brought back an NFL window in 2021 that allows players to try out for NFL teams and opt out of their Canadian contract if they’re offered a deal. If that opportunity is cut short and the player wants to return to the CFL, they must return to the team — and the contract — they opted out of.

JC Abbott, a writer for the 3DownNation website dedicated to the CFL and Canadian football, says it’s unfortunate Rourke’s injury prevented him from playing a full season and challenging CFL passing and touchdown records set by Doug Flutie.

He says over 20 NFL teams expressed interest in the signal caller who completed 248-of-313 passes, threw for 3,281 yards with 25 TDs, ran for 304 yards and seven TDs and had just 10 interceptions before his injury.

Second shot in the US

Rourke was born in Victoria but raised in Oakville, Ont. He transferred to Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama for his final year of high school football to try to get more attention from US colleges. He played one year of Junior College Football, in Fort Scott, Kansas, before earning a spot in the NCAA Divison I as both a quarterback and wide receiver with the Ohio University Bobcats.

“He was seen as a guy who was a first runner, a second passer,” said Abbott, explaining that NFL scouts weren’t sure about Rourke’s size, skill set and the lesser-known school he played for after his three years in Ohio. .

Rourke attended one NFL mini-camp with the New York Giants as a receiver, but wasn’t offered a spot on the team. Abbott adds that Rourke was even somewhat overlooked in the CFL, where he says Rourke was “highly thought of” but not seen as the league’s next great quarterback when the Lions selected him 15th overall in the second round of the 2020 draft.

Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke of Victoria guided BC to an 8-1 record before suffering a foot injury in a 28-10 win over the Roughriders on Aug. 19 that required surgery. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

Abbott says Rourke made some big changes during the pandemic such as training with Vancouver-based kinesiologist Rob Williams during the canceled 2020 season.

“He just completely redefined his mechanics — how he throws the ball,” said Abbott. “And now you’re talking about a guy who is the most accurate quarterback in a single season in CFL history, and who throws the ball with incredible velocity.”

Abbott believes it’s a “foregone conclusion” that Rourke signs some sort of NFL contract.

The caveat, he says, is that Rourke falls under the underdrafted free agent category which means there’s a cap on what he can be paid — likely transferring to a league minimum salary of $705,000 if he plays a full season.

“The key for him is to find a spot… where he has a shot to be the number two,” said Abbott, saying he feels Rourke’s best shot at the NFL would be as a bona fide backup quarterback.

“He’ll be poised quite well, if that sort of mid-level starter goes down, to take over and show something,” Abbott said.

“If he gets that opportunity, I’m not sure he gives that up.”

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