NFL

Canadian QB Nathan Rourke looking to carve out NFL career with Jaguars

Former B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke says he's looking to create a job for himself as he heads to the NFL. The 24-year-old from Victoria inked a standard rookie contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday after working out for a dozen NFL teams.

24-year-old former B.C. Lions passer was CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian in 2022

Football quarterback throws the ball.
B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke earned himself the Most Outstanding Canadian award for the 2022 CFL campaign and has signed a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Playing in the NFL has long been Nathan Rourke's dream.

Days after inking a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, though, the Canadian quarterback is still processing the monumental move.

"I'm still here in B.C. and I'm still living in my parents house," Rourke told reporters Tuesday. "When I get down there, I think it will sink in a little bit more."

The last few months have been an exhausting journey for the Victoria-born 24 year old.

Shortly after guiding the B.C. Lions to the playoffs in November, Rourke embarked on an extended tour that saw him work out for a dozen NFL clubs. Weeks of zigzagging the continent and talking contracts ended Sunday when he signed a rookie deal with the Jaguars.

"It was fun for me to be able to see different buildings and meet different people and travel to some cities in the U.S. that I haven't been to before. That was all fun," he said. "But the evaluation process is kind of brutal. And I'm glad that it's over and I'm going to a place where I feel wanted."

After being passed over in the 2021 NFL draft, Rourke joined the Lions, who selected him 15th overall in the 2020 CFL draft.

The six-foot-two, 209-pound Ohio product spent the 2021 campaign backing up Michael Reilly before taking over as starter in a stunning campaign last season.

He quickly captured attention, throwing for 3,349 yards — including three performances with more than 400 yards — with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 regular-season appearances. He added 304 yards on the ground with seven rushing TDs.

A foot injury that required surgery halted his campaign in August, but Rourke returned in the Lions' regular-season finale, then led the 12-6 team to a 30-16 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal. B.C. ultimately fell 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West final.

While Rourke worked out for 12 NFL clubs, there were others that called to inquire. The final decision was between Jacksonville, the Las Vegas Raiders and the Cleveland Browns.

"Ultimately it came down to the opportunity to be able to compete to be the No. 2 and to be one play away," he said. "And that was big for us."

The Canadian QB heard plenty of advice as he assessed his options, including some words of wisdom from fellow CFL alumnus Henry Burris.

The three-time Grey Cup champion and Canadian Football Hall of Famer also played in both the CFL and NFL, and now works as an offensive quality control coach in Jacksonville.

"He went through this himself and he said if he could do it again, he would have liked to have stayed in the CFL just because of his timing and the situation that he went down to," Rourke said.

"He said that the situation wasn't right for him, but if there's a situation that's right, where I can see a chance to be able to play at some point, then to take it. That's what I'm doing."

Ready to compete in Jacksonville

Jacksonville already has a solid starter in Trevor Lawrence, taken first overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Rourke said he's not looking to compete with the 23-year-old native of Knoxville, Tenn., for the No. 1 spot.

"I think [Lawrence is] a fantastic quarterback," he said. "I wish him nothing but the best this year and I'll be there to support him next year.

"But my job is to create a job for myself down there. And you never know what happens — you play well in the pre-season, another team could like you and you go from there. But I think going down there and being a part of that process is the best way to solidify a job in the future."

While playing in his home province has been "truly special," Rourke said continuing to play in the CFL simply wouldn't provide the opportunities he's dreamt of since childhood.

"I think that being on an NFL team and getting NFL film, whether it's pre-season or regular season is really important to be able to solidify yourself as an NFL starter," he said. "I don't think it's happening if you're playing another year in the CFL. I just don't.

"And I think that the goal right now is to be in a position where I'm a play away from playing."

Leading a CFL team did teach the young quarterback valuable lessons, like how to be a professional and prepare every week.

The 2022 Lions' team was special, Rourke said, and will stick with him, no matter where he ends up.

"It's a group that I'm not going to forget any time soon," he said. "I think that they've kind of raised my expectations in terms of what a CFL or a professional locker room should be like — how well you should feel, and how you should feel for your teammates, and how bought in you should be, and how you should come to work every single day. This group has really set that precedent for me.

"So I think throughout my career I'm going to be looking at this group and being like, `This is where the bar is set.' And I'm really, really fortunate for that part of it."

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