O’Leary: Canadian QBs taking brotherly competition to the gridiron

Sometimes it was on their driveway in Oakville, playing basketball. Other times it was through video games or board games. Nathan and Kurtis Rourke grew up competing together, but loved battling against each another. Their battle for brotherly bragging rights has culminated this summer in something that they’re both thrilled about.

The two Canadian quarterbacks — Nathan, a 21-year-old senior and Kurtis, an 18-year-old freshman — are going through training camp together with the Ohio Bobcats, a Div. 1 NCAA school in the Mid-American Conference, based in Athens, Ohio.

“Oh, 100 per cent. Everything,” Kurtis said. “Everything we do, even now. If it’s just a pickup game of basketball, a board game, a video game, anything. We’re competitive with each other no matter what. We love competing against each other even now and it’s been that way since we were young.”

“You compete with your siblings more than you would anybody else and we were no different,” Nathan said.

“We definitely push each other.”

Nathan Rourke throws a pass as a member of the Ohio Bobcats (Ohio University)

That push has worked out perfectly for the brothers — and their family, who won’t have to split travel time between their two sons this year. Nathan heads into his senior year having taken the Bobcats to two consecutive bowl games as the team’s starter. They won the Bahamas Bowl in 2017 and the Frisco Bowl in 2018.

The bowl wins have been nice, but the school has missed out on a division championship four times (2006, 2009, 2011 and 2016). They’re two things that Nathan would love to help the team’s longtime head coach, Frank Solich, cross off of his football bucket list this fall.

“I think that you definitely see, you understand that this is the last opportunity to kind of make a mark on this program and be able to contribute to a championship, I definitely see that,” he said.

“Even with all the expectations and stuff for this season, it’s easy to focus on what the team needs here and now. That means (the team) needs my full attention to every detail and being a leader and being a captain. I’m trying to step in and embrace that role.”

At six-foot-two and 209 pounds, Nathan has made 325 of 566 passes for 4,637 yards and 40 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions. He’s kept defences on their heels over the last two years, rushing 271 times for 1,772 yards and 36 touchdowns.

“He’s a tremendous athlete and a well-prepared athlete,” Solich said on the team’s media day this week.

“From Day 1, he was a different guy in that regard. You didn’t have to drive him to prepare. He was always spending his own time in the film room getting ready. He’s a great leader and a great example of what a young man in college football should be all about.”

While Kurtis — six-foot-one and 200 pounds — learns the game at a higher level, he’ll try to take in as much as he can from his older brother. In his time at Holy Trinity High in Oakville, Kurtis racked up 4,250 passing yards with 63 touchdowns, while completing 70 per cent of his passes. He rushed for 705 yards and six TDs and was a two-time league MVP and a two-time first-team all-star selection, playing on a Halton championship-winning team in 2017.

“We play the game a little differently,” Kurtis said of him and Nathan.

“We have different body types. He’s definitely a lot better with his legs and always has been since he was young, being able to make people miss. He’s displayed his elusiveness at every level that he’s played at.

“I’ve been more of a pass-first player. I am trying to develop into more of a runner as well just to help develop my game even more. But definitely growing up together, we play the same and think the same. There are similarities and differences in our playing styles.”

“Kurtis is very much like Nathan. He’s a student of the game,” Solich said.

“He’s probably a little bit bigger (than Nathan) but he probably doesn’t have the speed and quickness at this point in his career that Nathan has, but he has good speed and quickness. He has a great throwing arm and great touch. I think he can develop into a special thrower.”

Getting back on campus for training camp, Nathan said his focus has easily fallen into the day-to-day life that football season demands. He knows this is the end of his collegiate career, but he’s sees himself playing beyond the end of the Bobcats’ season.

“I’m not worried about what the future holds. I’m confident in that I’m going to be hopefully playing somewhere after this,” he said. “That all will come at a later date and I’m looking forward to just taking care of what I take care of here every day and not worrying about the future too much.”

It’s a storybook idea, that when Nathan graduates he can hand the offence over to his younger brother, but Kurtis isn’t taking anything for granted. He’ll continue to work and continue to push his brother to be at his best in his senior year.

“That’s obviously the goal, but I’ll have to win the job,” he said.

“I don’t think about being given the job because of who he was. I’ll try to win it on my own and do the best I can to achieve that goal.”