Canadian QB Nathan Rourke looking to make NFL career with Jaguars

Canadian QB Nathan Rourke looking to make NFL career with Jaguars

Nathan Rourke has long dreamed of playing in the NFL.

A day after agreeing to a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, the Canadian quarterback is still processing the monumental move.

“I’m still here in BC and I’m still living in my parents’ house,” Rourke told reporters on Tuesday. “When I go down there, I think it will sink in a little more.”

The past few months have been an exhausting journey for the 24-year-old who was born in Victoria.

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

“It was really fun for me to be able to see different buildings and meet different people and travel to some cities in the United States that I haven’t been to before. That was really fun,” he said. “But the evaluation process is kind of brutal. And I’m glad it’s over and I’m going to a place where I feel needed.”

After being traded 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 the starter in a stellar campaign last season.

He quickly drew attention, throwing for 3,349 yards — including three performances of 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, and the 12-6 team then cruised to a 30-16 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the division semifinals. Western. RC eventually fell 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western final.

Although Rourke worked out for 12 NFL clubs, there were others who asked 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 great for us.”

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

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

“He went through it himself and said if he could do it all over again, he’d want to stay in the CFL just because of the timing and the situation he was in,” Rourke said.

“He said that the situation was not right for him, but if the situation is right, when I see an opportunity to be able to play at some point, then take it. That’s what I’m doing.”

Ready to compete in Jacksonville

Jacksonville already has a strong starter in Trevor Lawrence, taken first overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Rourke said he doesn’t want to compete with the 23-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., for the No. 1 spot.

“I think [Lawrence is] great quarterback,” he said. “I wish him the best of luck 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 don’t know what happens – you play well in the pre-season, another team might like you and you go from there. But I think at going down there and being part of that process is the best way to secure a job in the future.”

While playing in his home province was “really special,” Rourke said continuing to play in the CFL would not provide the opportunities he had dreamed of since childhood.

“I think being on an NFL team and getting NFL film, whether it’s preseason 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 don’t think it is.

“And I think the goal right now is to be in a position where I can’t play.”

The CFL team taught 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 it, no matter where it ends up.

“It’s a group I won’t forget anytime soon,” he said. “I think they raised my expectations of what a CFL room or a professional locker room should be like – how good you should feel, and how you should feel for your teammates, and how you bought in, and how you should come to work every day This group has really set that precedent for me.

“So I think throughout my career I’m going to look at this group and be like, ‘This is where the bar is set.’ And I’m really lucky for that part of it.”

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