SURREY, B.C. — Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke believes he has what it takes to play in the NFL. Now he's heading south to see if there's a team that agrees.
Days after his season with the B.C. Lions came to a disappointing end, the 24-year-old Victoria native confirmed he's going to work out with a number of NFL teams.
"I never had a true opportunity at the NFL level, not as a quarterback. And that's always been something that I've wanted to at least try for a very long time," Rourke told reporters Tuesday.
"I'm fortunate to have an opportunity and see where that goes and understand that I have a heck of an opportunity still here with the Lions. And so, to me, it's a win-win, really."
Rourke stunned many in his first season as starter this year, throwing for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 regular-season games. He proved to be a dual threat, too, adding 304 rushing yards with seven TDs.
The six-foot-two, 209-pound quarterback's campaign was curtailed in mid-August by a foot injury that required surgery and forced him to miss eight games, but he returned for the final game of the regular season.
The Lions (12-6) made the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and downed the Calgary Stampeders 30-16 in the west semifinal before falling 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the west final on Sunday.
The team was a special group that fell short of its goal, Rourke said.
"It’s one of those ones that you would have loved to have seen throughout the end and be able to finish on a better note," he said. "So certainly a bitter taste in my mouth from that, but there were a lot of great moments that we can look back on and smile and enjoy."
As attention grew around the Ohio University product this season, Rourke did his best to tune out the noise.
“I told my agent that I didn't want to hear about any NFL things during the season," he said. "I wanted to be able to focus and make sure all my chips were on the table and I was doing everything that I could to give everything I had to the Lions until the season was over. That's the way I treated it."
As a result, he doesn't have any details on how many or which NFL teams he'll be doing workouts with. All Rourke knows is that he's looking for the right opportunity.
“I think playing is important. And being able to make an impact and trying to win is important," he said. "I think I have a great opportunity to do that (with the Lions). So it's going to have to be a good situation (in the NFL). I don't really know what exactly it looks like in terms of the specifics, but I know that we'll know when we come across it.”
Selfishly, head coach Rick Campbell wants to see his starting QB return next season. But he also serves as B.C.'s co-general manager and wants to see the young man he picked 15th overall in the 2020 CFL draft pursue his dreams, too.
“I'm personally rooting for Nathan, whatever happens to him," Campbell said. "If we start becoming an organization where we're losing people to other teams, NFL or CFL teams, that means good stuff’s happening."
Keeping as much of the current Lions' team together as possible is a priority this off-season, he added.
"I think continuity wins in this league," Campbell said. "And so we're going to be working hard starting now, trying to retain coaches and players and fitting that whole piece of the puzzle together."
Several major players in the Lions' lineup are on expiring contracts, including veteran wide receiver Bryan Burnham and defensive back T.J. Lee.
Lee tallied 53 defensive tackles, four special teams tackles, three interceptions and a touchdown in his eighth season with the Lions this year. The 31-year-old Eastern Washington product said he has lots of football left in him but may not suit up for B.C. next year.
“I plan on playing two more years and I've always been adamant about it, not ever wanting to look back and wonder ‘What if?’" Lee said. "So, I'm coming back to play more football, I just don't know where. I'm a free agent.”
Burnham, 32, admitted that he's thought about hanging up his pads but still believes he has what it takes to compete with the CFL's best.
Injuries limited the Tulsa alum to just nine games this season but he still managed 596 receiving yards with four touchdowns.
Despite spending a week in hospital with broken ribs and a collapsed lung, then suffering a fractured wrist, Burnham said the 2022 season was a special one.
“Last year was the most difficult season of my life, the darkest moments of my life. And I said when I re-signed, one of the biggest reasons is because of the guys in this locker room, the guys who helped me through those times," he said.
“I've loved every single minute of it. I love these guys. I loved being a leader. I've loved watching the young guys grow into leaders themselves. … Happiest season of my life."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.
The Canadian Press