The CFL is much different than the NFL. For starters, there are eight teams in each division. The rules are different and the season starts in June and ends in early November. Leading up to the 2020 CFL Draft, Rourke was listed as the seventh overall CFL draft prospect. He was in a draft class that consisted of current NFL players such as Neville Gallimore and Chase Claypool (both players play for the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively).
Nathan Rourke was drafted in the second round by the BC Lions. Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2020 CFL season was cancelled. During that time, Rourke received an invite from an NFL team for a tryout. The New York Giants brought in Rourke to try out not as a quarterback but as a wide receiver. He ended up leaving New York without a deal.
— Justin Dunk (@JDunk12) May 12, 2021
New beginnings in the CFL
The CFL returned in 2021 and Rourke originally was listed as the backup for the BC Lions when the season started. The quarterback who was starting ahead of Rourke was Michael Reilly. Reilly attended Central Washington University, an NCAA Division two school located in Ellensburg, Washington. Reilly was a runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is an award for the best player in all of Division two football.
He bounced around the NFL with multiple stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Like most NFL players that flame out of the league, he went to the CFL. He spent two seasons with the BC Lions and won a Grey Cup in one of his two seasons with the team. He later went to the Edmonton Eskimos (now named the Edmonton Elks), and he won not only a Grey Cup in 2015 but the Grey Cup MVP too.
Rourke was backing up someone who had success in the CFL. Rourke made rare appearances, usually being utilized in situations in which the team had to gain small yardage. He started in two games but threw three TD’s and five INT’s with a 1-1 record. Rourke received a ton of praise and BC fans were excited at the potential Rourke could have for their team. Rourke flashed in one of his games against Edmonton as he completed 68% of his passes and ran for 34 yards on seven carries as the Lions beat Edmonton 43-10 in Week 16.
After Reilly retired in 2021, Rourke was named the starter for the BC Lions for the 2022 season. At first, BC Lions head coach Rick Campbell wanted the team to bring in a CFL veteran quarterback to challenge Rourke for the spot. “We would like to add a veteran CFL quarterback to the mix, I would look at it as a 1 and 1a situation.” Campbell said during his interview with 3downnation.com.
Campbell raved about Rourke and had high praise for the young native from Canada. “It’s exciting, he’s young, he’s energetic, he’s hungry, he’s competitive, he shows all the signs to be a good player in this league and we want to give him that opportunity.”, he said when referring to Rourke.
Rourke was excited to show what he could do for his team. “More than anything, I want this team to win. The way that I approach things doesn’t change. I know what I need to get prepared to be the Guy and I’ve been preparing to be The Guy.” Rourke said during his interview with The Province.
The Birth of Kid Canada
With Rourke being officially named the starter for the BC Lions, it was only necessary that he began his career as a starter off with a bang. In his first game against the Edmonton Elks, Rourke threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 59-15 blowout win. Rourke also completed 89% of his passes which set a CFL record.
“A 🇨🇦 QB can’t be a starter…” they said… 😏
– 11-play TD drive to start for @Nathan_Rourke
– 26/29 for 282 yards and 3 TD strikes
– 89.7 completion percentage (new CFL record for 🇨🇦 QBs)
– 7 carries for 78 yards & 2 majors#RoarLikeNeverBefore pic.twitter.com/yAOBdgGxzo
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) June 14, 2022
Rourke was recognized as one of the CFL’s top performers in week one, earning player of the week honors for the first time in his career.
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) June 14, 2022
Rourke’s hot start continued the following week as Rourke went 39 of 45 for over 400 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions with a dominant win over the Toronto Argonauts. He also threw for the most passing yards as a Canadian in that game as well.
— CFL (@CFL) June 26, 2022
In his first two games as a starter, these were Rourke’s stats.
- Completed 65 of his 74 passes (87%)
- 7-0 TD to INT ratio
- Threw for over 700 yards passing
- Averaged 19.4 yards per pass.
Rourke was showcasing his talent for all of Canada to see. His athleticism stood out on plays like this against the Ottawa Redblacks that showcase his speed and agility on a touchdown run.
— CFL (@CFL) June 30, 2022
He did have his struggles eventually but as the season progressed Rourke was improving each and every week. Not only did he improve but the BC Lions improved as a team. The Lions went on a five game winning streak that had them second in the West division and vying for a playoff spot. Rourke was slowly becoming not only the best quarterback in the league, but turning into the face of the league.
In recent years, the CFL has lacked homegrown talent, especially at the quarterback position. The star quarterbacks in the CFL have been American, not Canadian. Nathan Rourke being a star in the CFL and being Canadian was huge for the league at large. People were dubbing him “Kid Canada”, a unique nickname but suitable considering his talent level.
Rourke’s hot start made him the front-runner to win multiple awards from the MOP (Most Outstanding Player, equivalent to the NFL’s MVP award) to the Most Outstanding Canadian award (which is awarded to the best Canadian player in the league). His numbers leading up to the week nine matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders looked like this.
- 79.2% completion percentage (which would be a single-season league record) , the last quarterback that held the record was Ricky Ray of the Toronto Argonauts in 2013.
- Efficiency Rating of 125.1 which would be second best in CFL history behind Ricky Ray who also set the mark back in 2013
- Led the league in passing yards with 3,281
- Led the league in Touchdowns and was the top-rushing quarterback averaging 7.8 yards per carry