Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke looks to carve out an NFL career with the Jaguars

Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke looks to carve out an NFL career with the Jaguars

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

Yet days after signing a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Canadian quarterback is still processing the monumental move.

“I’m still here in BC and I’m still living at my parents’ house,” Rourke told reporters Tuesday. “When it gets there, I think it’s going to sink a little bit more.”

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

Shortly after guiding the BC Lions to the playoffs in November, Rourke embarked on an extended tour that saw him coach for a dozen NFL clubs. Weeks of zigzagging across the continent and talking about contracts ended Sunday when he signed a rookie contract 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 US that I hadn’t been to before. All of that was fun,” he said. “But the judging process is a bit brutal. And I’m glad 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 6-foot-2, 209-pound Ohio product spent the 2021 season backing up Michael Reilly before taking over as the starter in an impressive season last season.

He quickly turned heads, passing for 3,349 yards, including three 400-plus yard performances, with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 regular-season appearances. He added 304 rushing yards with seven rushing touchdowns.

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

While Rourke coached for 12 NFL clubs, there were others who called to ask. The final decision was between Jacksonville, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns.

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

The Canadian quarterback listened to a lot of advice as he weighed 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 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 said if he could do it again, he would have liked to stay in the CFL just because of his timing and the situation he was in,” Rourke said.

“He said the situation wasn’t right for him, but if there’s a right situation, where I can see an opportunity that I can play at some point, then take it. That’s what I’m doing.”

Ready to race 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 Knoxville, Tennessee native for the No. 1 pick.

“I think [Lawrence is] a fantastic quarterback,” he said. “I wish him 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 preseason, another team might like you and you go from there. But I think going there and being a part of That process is the best way to consolidate a job in the future.”

While playing in his home province has been “truly special”, Rourke said that continuing to play in the CFL simply would not provide him with the opportunities he dreamed of since childhood.

“I think being on an NFL team and getting NFL footage, whether it’s preseason or regular season, is really important to being able to establish 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 think so.

“And I think the goal right now is to be in a position where he’s one play away from playing.”

Leading a CFL team taught the young quarterback valuable lessons, like being a pro and preparing every week.

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

“It’s a group I’m not going to forget anytime soon,” he said. “I think they’ve raised my expectations in terms of what a CFL or professional locker room should look like: how good you have to feel, how you have to feel about your teammates and how committed you have to be.” and how he must 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 think, ‘This is where the bar is.’ And I’m very, very lucky for that part.”

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