Nathan Rourke is living this football season vicariously through his younger brother, Kurtis.
The B.C. Lions rookie quarterback has been relegated to the role of football fan since August when the CFL cancelled the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s allowed Rourke, 22, to spend fall at home in Oakville, Ont., for the first time since high school and gather with his parents to watch Kurtis, a 20-year-old redshirt freshman, blaze his own path under centre at Ohio University (1-1).
“It’s really different,” Nathan Rourke said during a telephone interview. “If we haven’t been on the same team, whenever we’d chat and talk it would usually be about each other’s game or upcoming games and it’s weird to not be playing myself.
“But it’s good to sit back and kind of get a different perspective on the time I had at Ohio and see it from a fan’s perspective. It’s been fun for me but awesome for us to see Kurtis play. I know it’s only been two games but it’s great to see all the hard work he’s put into it pay off.”
The six-foot-two, 209-pound Nathan Rourke enjoyed a stellar collegiate career. He won 25-of-39 career starts and led Ohio University to three straight bowl wins (2017 Bahamas Bowl, 2018 Frisco Bowl, and 2020 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl).
Rourke threw for 7,454 yards with 60 TDs while rushing for 2,639 yards (6.21-yard average) and 49 touchdowns. He received the Jon Cornish Trophy in 2017-18 as Canada’s top NCAA performer and named a 2019 finalist.
In May, the Lions selected Rourke, a Victoria native, in the second round, No. 15 overall, in the CFL draft. He became the highest selection at quarterback since 2001 when the Montreal Alouettes took Florida’s Jesse Palmer, of Ottawa, at No. 15 in 2001.
Kurtis Rourke, a six-foot-three, 211-pound redshirt freshman, has started Ohio’s first two games but split playing time in each with Armani Rogers, a six-foot-five, 225-pound senior who transferred from UNLV. After completing 12-of-19 passes for 231 yards and two TDs in a season-opening 30-27 loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 4, Rourke was 8-of-14 passing for 92 yards versus Akron.
Following the victory, Bobcats head coach Frank Solich was non-committal about who’ll start Tuesday versus Miami (Ohio).
The Rourke brothers speak often, either by phone or via text, and Nathan Rourke said his message remains constant.
“The recurring theme right now is controlling what he can control,” he said. “I’ve been on both sides of it: I’ve been the one trying to beat out the starter and the guy starting who’s had to fend off the other guy.
“The coaches are going to make decisions you won’t always agree with and it’s not good to dwell upon that. It’s more important that if you have an chance and you’re in, take advantage of it … because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think he’s done a pretty good job of that.”
Rourke said he cherished being able to spend his final collegiate season with his brother. He added Kurtis helped show him how a backup can still practise hard and compete while helping the starter prepare. It’s a lesson the elder Rourke was looking forward to implementing this year with Lions veteran starter Mike Reilly.
But Nathan Rourke said he and his brother are very different players.
“Absolutely, in more ways that one,” he said. “I came to Ohio my sophomore year in 2017 as a guy who could do more on the run than in the air and Kurtis has kind of been the opposite.
“He might settle into the run game more as his career progresses, I’m very confident of that. But he can throw and read defences and be able to find completions more naturally than I did.
“If you look at Kurtis’s raw talent, he’s always had a very strong and accurate arm, and couple that with his frame, I think you see a guy who’s the prototypical pro-style quarterback. He hasn’t put it all together yet but when he does I think it’s going to be really tough to stop.”
That’s not to suggest Kurtis Rourke can’t run with the football.
“He’s certainly capable of extending plays with his legs and hopefully he has more chances to show that,” Nathan Rourke said. “But I’m also hoping the offence begins to evolve around his strengths.
“That’s a downfield passing game and have him go through more complicated reads and be able to spread the ball downfield with little checkdowns here and there that are extensions of the run game rather than the run game be an extension of the pass. I think that just fits his strengths better.”
Nathan Rourke’s collegiate success certainly casts an immense shadow. But Rourke said if his brother concentrates on doing what he does best and effectively controls what he can control, he’ll do just fine.
“I was there for quite a bit but at the end of the day he’ll be there longer than I was,” Rourke said. “When he’s able to cement his own legacy I think they’ll even forget I was there.
“I’m looking forward to that for him because I don’t want him to chase something I did. I’m confident he’ll establish his own legacy because we’re two different players and it’s going to be in a different way. Once he’s able to focus upon just being himself and not worrying about me, he’ll really have the chance to break free from that comparison.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2020.