Nathan Rourke’s long, roundabout, highlight-rich trip to the NCAA is complete: The Canadian quarterback has officially committed to play Div. I football at Ohio University.
Rourke played at three different schools the last three years in order to earn a scholarship. First he led Oakville’s Holy Trinity Titans to their first OFSAA bowl championship in 2014. Then he guided Edgewood Academy to a 13-0 record and a Class AA Alabama state championship one year ago. After that he paced the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference with 2,367 passing yards in 11 games this fall.
Next stop: Athens, Ohio.
Rourke’s family—dad Larry, mom Robyn and brother Kurtis—moved to Alabama in order to make him eligible to play at Edgewood Academy for his senior high school year. The goal: play well and garner a scholarship offer from a big-time NCAA program.
The Canuck signal caller nailed the first part: He completed 75 percent of his passes for 3,779 yards and 59 touchdowns, which tied for the most ever by an Alabama high school player. He also rushed for seven more touchdowns, putting him one shy of the state record for total touchdowns in a season. Rourke was named AISA All-Metro football player of the year.
A recruiting whirlwind followed, but the second part of his plan proved tougher to accomplish.
“I talked to UCLA, Missouri, Rice and FAU, a bunch of schools, but one way or another the door shut on me for different reasons,” Rourke says.
When the opportunities with Div. I programs dried up, Rourke decided to go the junior-college route and attend Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, which has seen the likes of first-team NFL players Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David come through the program recently.
The six-foot-two, 215-lb. quarterback passed for 2,367 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which earned Rourke a first-team All KJCCC nod at QB.
“It was a great experience. Fort Scott plays in such a great conference in the Jayhawk, every game you play against Div. I players who are going to the SEC, Pac 12, Big 12 and Big 10,” Rourke says.
A late-season offer from Eastern Kentucky got the ball rolling on scholarship opportunities. All in he got six Div. I offers—two from FBS schools and four from FCS ones.
After going on official visits to Akron and Ohio, Rourke’s decision was made.
“I was considering Akron and had a really good visit there. With Ohio I just felt like the program is established, they’ve been in bowl games the last eight years, winning records, job security, [and] the head coach, offensive and defensive coordinator have been there for 12 years.”
Rourke feels like the Ohio University coaching staff will be in place for his entire time with the Bobcats, which he describes as a big factor in the decision.
“That was important to me. My head coach at Fort Scott, Kale Pick, went to the University of Kansas and had three head coaches and five position coaches during his time there, and he was warning me about that,” Rourke explains. “The [Ohio University] head coach, Frank Solich, wants to retire in Ohio. The quarterback coach has a family and bought a house in Ohio—as a coach that’s pretty much unheard of.”
Athens is a college town and the locals are really behind the football program, selling out Peden Stadium for home games. Rourke feels the type of offence Ohio runs could also help prep him for the pros.
“It’s going to challenge me and it can be transferable to the NFL because it has checks and puts a lot on the quarterback,” he says. “I want to challenge myself mentally so I can prepare myself mentally for the next level.”
The Canadian quarterback wants to break down barriers for pivots from the north.
“That’s the motivation. That’s what wakes you up in the morning. It’s hardly done in the CFL, and that’s our league—there’s no Canadian quarterbacks starting. In the NFL Canadian quarterbacks just doen’t happen. In the NCAA, it’s rare.”
Canadian QB guru and Football North head coach Larry Jusdanis, who started in the CFL and was the first Canuck quarterback invited to the NFL Combine, says Rourke is one of the best he’s ever coached—Michael Faulds, Danny Brannagan and Will Finch are just a few names Jusdanis has helped develop over the years.
“Nathan is a special one. He has the ‘it’ factor and competes,” says Jusdanis. “Knowing how much of a competitor he is I bet he’ll start for Ohio next season.”
Rourke realizes the impact Jusdanis had on him as a young QB.
“He was someone that I relied on heavily for quarterback development. I trained at his gym, I went to his quarterback and speed camps,” says Rourke. “He helped me throw better and get faster—pushing me to be a Div. I quarterback.”
Rourke has four years to complete three years of NCAA playing eligibility with the goal being to start at quarterback in 2017 for Ohio.
“I have to earn the respect of my teammates and coaching staff. I have an advantage because I am going to be going in on Jan. 7, rather than in the fall. I’ll have the spring, summer and then fall camp to go win the job.”