Nathan Rourke certainly raised eyebrows with his eye-popping stats in his first game as the B.C. Lions’ undisputed No. 1 quarterback, but it didn’t come as any surprise to a guy who knows the Canadian QB as well as anybody.
“Everybody saying it’s (just) one game — it’s not,” said Larry Jusdanis, a former Canadian quarterback in the CFL who has worked with Rourke in southern Ontario since he was in Grade 6.
“Nobody saw him in college, nobody saw him in high school, nobody saw him when he was a kid. It’s the same steps he’s following (now).”
With the spotlight shining on Rourke since the Lions named the Victoria-born, Oakville, Ont.-raised quarterback the starter following the retirement of Michael Reilly, the second-year pro is showing early signs of becoming an extreme CFL rarity – a Canadian pivot with staying power.
After a solid pre-season, Rourke completed 26 of 29 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 78 yards and two more majors in the Lions’ season-opening 59-15 win over the visiting Edmonton Elks on June 11.
“I always say good players have good practices, good games, do all that stuff and do what they have to do. Great players ask what they did wrong during those practices, how to get better. He’s one of the few guys that just wants to be perfect,” Jusdanis said.
Jusdanis, who now runs the Football North high school program in Mississauga, Ont., said he noticed from a young age that Rourke had special talent.
“He was dominant. He just has an innate ability to make big plays,” said Jusdanis, who started off coaching Rourke in summer ball in Burlington, Ont. “The big thing we talk about with quarterbacks is eye levels. He never dropped his eye levels. He can stay in the pocket, he can move. Is he Lamar Jackson? No. But he can move in the pocket and do well. And he throws the ball exceptionally well, he’s very accurate, which is the most important thing.
“He’s (also) always won. That’s something people I think take for granted. The most important thing is they’ve got to win or else the coach is going to get fired. That’s the bottom line.”
Indeed, Rourke won an Ontario high school title in his final year at Holy Trinity, captured an Alabama championship in his final year of high school after he crossed the border for better competition and went to bowl games in all three of his seasons at Ohio University.
Now, he faces the pressure of trying to be that elusive Canadian quarterback who can lead a team to glory. But Jusdanis doesn’t see it being an issue.
“He just wants to play football and win championships,” Jusdanis said. “I’m sure he wants to do it as a Canadian, I’m sure he has it in the back of his mind. But ultimately, he wants to win a Grey Cup for the B.C. Lions. That’s his goal, simple goal.”
After a bye week, Rourke returns to action on Saturday against the visiting Toronto Argos.
The Lions are the league’s early feel-good story on and off the field – a crowd of more than 34,000 attended the opener.
If Rourke can deliver another big outing against Toronto, the Lions’ buzz figures to increase.
“Just unparalleled work ethic, wanting to succeed and that drive to win separates him,” Jusdanis said. “He just loves the process. It’s easy to say I want to win on Friday night. What are you going to do all that other time when no one’s watching you?
“He’s that good. He’s got something – he’s always had it.”
WHAT WE LIKED IN WEEK 2
Bo Levi Mitchell’s effort to lift the Stamps to an improbable OT victory in Hamilton. The league is better when Mitchell is playing well … RB Andrew Harris and WR Brandon Banks, two of the biggest free-agent signings, doing good things for the Argos in their win over Montreal … Redblacks QB Jeremiah Masoli throwing for more than 300 yards for the second week in a row vs. Winnipeg. Ex-Ticat well on his way to becoming the face of the franchise … New Alouettes owner Gary Stern, who is new to Twitter, continuing to have fun and interacting with fans on the social media platform. Sometimes it seems a bit wacky, but the connection is real. Unfortunately, Stern tweeted he tested positive for COVID-19 (he says it’s mild) on Wednesday and will miss Thursday’s home opener
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE IN WEEK 2
The Redblacks taking a roughing-the-kicker penalty to eliminate any chance of a comeback against Winnipeg … The Alouettes making a quick move to replace Vernon Adams Jr. with Trevor Harris. Adams certainly isn’t playing up to potential, but he had thrown just four passes in Toronto. Seemed a bit rushed … The Lions having a unfortunate bye week after Rourke’s great game in the opener.
THINGS TO WATCH IN WEEK 3
The Grey Cup rematch in Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats aren’t yet playing at the level they were by the end of the 2019 and ’21 seasons … The crowd size in Montreal for the home opener against Saskatchewan. New Lions owner Amar Doman has re-energized the Vancouver market; Stern is trying to do the same in Montreal … How much the Argos use Harris after he suffered a hamstring injury last week … The Roughriders’ offence with veteran centre Dan Clark (ankle) out and quarterback Cody Fajardo wearing a brace on his left knee.
WEEK 3 PICKS
Saskatchewan Roughriders (-3.5) at Montreal Alouettes, Thursday, 7:30 p.m ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
Harris starts at QB for the Als after he replaced Adams Jr. (who now has COVID-19) last week in Toronto. The Als need a big effort from the inconsistent Harris to avoid falling to 0-3. PICK: Saskatchewan
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-4.5), Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT
Rematch of the past two Grey Cups, both won by Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers have not hit top stride this year and the Ticats are desperate for a win. PICK: Hamilton
Edmonton Elks at Calgary Stampeders (-8.5), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
First Battle of Alberta of the season as the Stamps return home after a huge comeback win in Hamilton. Expect Calgary to ride that momentum to another win. PICK: Calgary
Toronto Argonauts at B.C. Lions (-4.5), Saturday, 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT
Two 1-0 teams square off after each had byes in the first two weeks. With newfound enthusiasm in the market, the Lions need another strong performance to maintain momentum. PICK: B.C.
– Odds from FanDuel as of Wednesday.
2022 record: 5-3
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-0, Last week: 1): Two-time defending Grey Cup champs have been pushed in both games by Ottawa, but have found a way to win.
2. Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-0, Last week: 2): Big fourth quarter allowed Roughriders to escape Edmonton with a victory.
3. Calgary Stampeders (2-0, Last week: 4): Down 24-3 at halftime in Hamilton, the Stamps rallied for an OT win. Mitchell proved he’s got plenty left in the tank.
4. Toronto Argonauts (1-0, Last week: 3): They’re the only team in the East with a win, but that’s only because Montreal missed a short field goal in Toronto’s home opener.
5. B.C. Lions (1-0, Last week: 5): Coming off the bye week, Lions are home playing a night game against a Toronto team adjusting to the time change.
6. Ottawa Redblacks (0-2, Last week: 7): The Redblacks easily could be 2-0, but just couldn’t finish against Winnipeg. Still, this looks like a much-improved team.
7. Montreal Alouettes (0-2, Last week: 8): After two close losses on the road, the Alouettes become the final team to play a home opener against Saskatchewan.
8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-2, Last week: 7): Looked great in the first half against Calgary and then fell apart. Two-time reigning East champs now have to travel to Winnipeg.
9. Edmonton Elks (0-2, Last week: 9): Much more competitive in second game vs. Saskatchewan after awful performance in B.C. in opener.