In the CFL there are 21 Canadians on every team’s game day roster. On each of every 9 team’s roster throughout the CFL season 7 of 24 offensive/defensive starters are Canadian, and the rest are typically American. The majority of Canadian starters and players in the CFL are found at offensive line, full back/tight end, as well as on the defensive side of the ball at safety, half back and linebacker. Americans are usually found at quarterback, running back, receiver, pass rusher, cornerback and outside linebacker and it is often hard for Canadians to fit in at those positions especially at the quarterback position. Since Russ Jackson’s career ended in 1969 with the Ottawa Rough Riders there hasn’t been too many elite Canadian quarterbacks. As of recent there has been Andrew Buckley and Brandon Bridge who each had small opportunities to play quarterback in the CFL however we haven’t seen a real Canadian starting quarterback in a long time and now we have the chance to see one more Canadian quarterback come in and compete to accomplish what past Canadian quarterbacks have like Russ Jackson.
The quarterback referred to is Nathan Rourke, a second round pick of the B.C Lions from the 2020 CFL Draft out of the University of Ohio. Rourke, a 22 year old from Oakville, Ontario signed a 3 year rookie contract with the Lions on Wednesday and is set to backup future CFL hall of famer Mike Reilly for the 2021 CFL season. Reilly has been a very reliable quarterback in the CFL, having played all 54 regular season games for the Edmonton Eskimos from 2016 to 2018 but after missing two games with the B.C Lions in the 2019 CFL season and at 36 years old there is a chance his time in the CFL comes to an end fairly soon. With that into consideration Nathan Rourke will be entering his rookie year in the summer in a perfect situation. He will have the chance to learn from Reilly in year one and likely year two while also having a 3rd year on his contract which could be used as a “prove-me” year if Mike Reilly retires following the end of his contract in 2022.
Rourke, while at the University of Ohio made a name for himself, being on the radar for the 2020 NFL Draft. Many had him as a top 20 quarterback in his draft class because of the outstanding career he had in the MAC. He’d thrown for over 7,400 yards and 60 touchdowns while running for 2,634 yards and an additional 49 touchdowns in just 39 games played. Adding two receiving touchdowns into the mix he averaged 2.8 touchdowns per game throughout his collegiate career. He is tied for second most touchdowns responsible for in the MAC with 111 alongside New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington. That is more than Ben Rothlesberger, Byron Leftwitch, Drew Willy and more notable quarterbacks in the MAC record books. With his mobility and ability to not only move out of the pocket but run the distance makes Rourke’s potential huge, putting himself in a similar situation as a Vernon Adams or Cody Fajardo where he, with a lot of potential has the opportunity to spend a few years in the league prior to starting.
Nathan Rourke was also able to spent a rookie mini camp with the New York Giants just a few weeks ago at wide receiver. He wasn’t able to make the cuts at the Giants camp however he was able to get an opportunity to be around some NFL players and coaches, adding that to the experience he has going into the opportunity with the CFL’s B.C Lions.
In the CFL today both Nathan Rourke and Michael O’Connor are the only Canadian quarterbacks on active rosters, however with a number of Canadian quarterbacks now entering the NCAA there is a chance that we see more come into the CFL in future years, one being Nathan Rourke’s brother Kurtis. Kurtis Rourke played the 2020 NCAA season with Ohio after being sat aside in 2019. Over the span of three games he had thrown for 386 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 completions and 44 attempt with zero interceptions. He is set to start for Ohio in the 2021 season with a Canadian backup in Callum Wither who just signed with Ohio this off-season.