It’s Tuesday afternoon, just three days after setting a single game Canadian passing yardage record and Nathan Rourke is locked in.
From the BC Lions’ facility in Surrey, Rourke sat down in front of a zoom camera with myself and Matt Dunigan to discuss what has been nothing less than a charmed start for the 2020 draft pick out of Ohio University.
Watching Rourke hammer back a salad while fulfilling media obligations that come with being both a quarterback and player of interest in professional football, I got the sense the Lions’ lead man was fitting us in between a workout and a film session; such is the life of a quarterback.
“Soooo, how tired are you of all this?” I asked with an understanding laugh hoping to break the ice of his undoubtedly long day on a short week.
“Pretty tired.” Rourke said in a matter of fact way between bites.
What many don’t appreciate about Rourke’s early season success is the ability to stay focused on the things that REALLY matter: the items of preparation and performance that determine games while carrying the blessing and burden that is the maple leaf on his back.
In being able to absorb the responsibilities and pressure of being a Canadian quarterback and perform at a high level by never losing sight of the day-to-day to do list, Rourke isn’t just breaking the decades-old narrative that Canadian quarterbacks are somehow lesser than. He’s providing the template for Canadian passers that will come after him.
It takes a special player to throw for more than 700 yards in two games with nine total touchdowns and complete nearly 90 per cent of passes. It takes an even more special person to do it all after being reminded in every conversation outside of the building that where he was born makes this all mean more.
The reality is Rourke truly loves the game. That’s his motivation to prepare and perform. It’s not the cameras or adoration of Canadian football fans that have long craved a Canadian catching shotgun snaps instead of holding clipboards or watching from the stands, telling their friends about the unfair shake they were given in a two week facade of a training camp ‘opportunity.’
If his focus was anywhere other than on the game and opponent, he’d have no chance to break through the great Canadian QB wall and draw this ever increasing level of attention to his game.
To do it with no ego might be his greatest accomplishment of all.
“I figured out pretty quickly there was no need for me to be a rah-rah guy. I’m not needed to play a role. I need to be authentic,” Rourke told us on Tuesday.
“If you’re fake, veterans and people who have been around the game for a long time can tell. I just want to be true to myself. I want to be authentic. They know who I am because I try to show them that daily. That’s what you live for, being real with people and inspiring them to follow you through difficult situations.”
There have been a long line of talented Canadian quarterbacks who will without question be watching tonight when Rourke takes his travelling touchdown show on the road for the first time in 2022 when BC visits the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Many of them will be living vicariously through his every drop back, pump fake and pin point throw.
One of those is former Ottawa Gee-Gees quarterback turned REDBLACKS’ receiving legend Brad Sinopoli, who himself experienced the expectation that comes with being labelled ‘The Next One’.
I asked Sinopoli — who works alongside the REDBLACKS’ radio team and in-stadium media production crew — a few weeks ago how he viewed Rourke’s first game.
“Special. He’s special and just looks so smooth,” he told me.
High praise from one of the smoothest Canadian football athletes of the last twenty years.
Watch the BC Lions of 2022 and you get the sense this is an attack built by offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic that is designed to accentuate the strengths of Rourke’s quick, compact delivery and high processing speed. Rourke believes it’s been his ability to adapt to the offence, not the other way around that has made all the difference to his hot start.
“The first priority is getting our playmakers the ball in space. My 2021 special package, we put it in and grew it,” he said. “In essence, the role of the QB here is to distribute. We have the most success as an offence when I embrace that, rather than everyone around me developing to my strengths.”
The maturity, patience, calm demeanour and high level execution of Nathan Rourke’s early season have undeniably excited Canadians from coast-to-coast. In a city that still celebrates Canadian quarterback legend Russ Jackson one has to wonder if Rourke somehow meets the standard of play he’s set through two games if the REDBLACKS’ faithful will be all that upset.
My guess? A lot of Ottawa fans are wishing for a high-scoring Ottawa win where the Canadian kid proves once again that he can play with anyone, anywhere, anytime. That would be the greatest gift of all this Canada Day weekend.