August 25, 2023

O’Leary: Kurtis Rourke eyes his best season yet

Photo courtesy of Ohio University

As siblings of any age can tell you, the rivalry never fully ends.

A smile crept into the corner of Kurtis Rourke’s mouth on Thursday, as the Ohio University quarterback chatted with media about his claim of the top spot in the CFL’s fall edition of the Scouting Bureau. Kurtis, the younger brother of former Bobcat/BC Lion and current Jacksonville Jaguar Nathan, had just picked up an honour that eluded his wildly successful sibling in his college days.

“Nathan and I being competitive, I think if I need to it’ll be something I bring up maybe down the road. Not initially, I don’t think we’ve talked about it yet. But it’s quite the honour, for sure,” Kurtis said. The Oakville, Ont. product reflected briefly on his roots as he thought about his placement on the list, which ranks CFL Draft-eligible players for the 2024 season.

“I watched CFL and CIS (now U SPORTS) growing up a lot and to be able to be recognized high on a list of a Canadian (talent), it’s great. Hopefully I’ll be able to do well and continue with that as well as the team. Overall it’s really, really a great accomplishment.”

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A graduate student, Rourke is heading into his third season as the Bobcats’ starting quarterback. The six-foot-five, 231-pounder played in 11 games last season, racking up 3,256 passing yards on a 69 per cent completion rate, with 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He found the end zone by foot four times last year as well, with 234 rushing yards.

The 2022 MAC Offensive Player of the Year, Rourke’s season was cut short when he tore his ACL on Nov. 1. He’ll suit up on Saturday for the start of the Bobcats’ season, just over nine months since he was hurt, putting his return on the shorter side of his projected 9-12 month recovery. He’ll get the start on the road against San Diego State.

“My goal ever since I got injured, I knew it was going to be a tough road trying to get back, but my goal was to play this week,” Rourke said.

“I’ve been working as hard as I could with the great staff that we have in our training room today and doing physical therapy, working with the coaches to see the best plan fit. And the fact they were able to clear me this week to play has been great. It’s been a long road and a lot of tough recovery, in rehab and getting back. To be able to reach the goal of being able to play this week…it’s nothing but exciting and it was all worth it.”

Rourke heads into this season on the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl Watchlist and has professional buzz around him already, both from the NFL and the CFL. While he works toward his team goals of getting the Bobcats a MAC title; something that has eluded the school since 1968, he’ll deal with the increased attention around him as pro teams get a sense of who he is and how he’s handled the aftermath of his injury.

“My name has been passed around here and there and I’ve had a couple of conversations with with agents for possibly the next year and 2024, coming out,” he said. “A lot of questions are just about how I respond coming back from the injury.

“From all the people and all the agents that I talked to, or the scouts that are here at practice, my biggest goal was being able to prove that I’m back to 100 per cent and nothing’s really changed with my health. That’s my side goal, side kind of thing, to just to let everybody know that even though I did get injured it won’t affect the future.”

At the time of Rourke’s injury last season, he was the MAC’s leading passer. Another strong showing would certainly help his draft stock, but he’s trying to keep his focus on what’s more immediately in front of him.

“First off, I just want to have a good season both as a team and individually. Overall, the reason that I wanted to come back and wanted to play with these guys is because we have such a great team, such a great opportunity, such a great coaching staff,” Rourke said. “The No. 1 goal is to win in Detroit in December and hopefully that means I have a good season and then go on from there.

“My goal since I was young was to play professionally, whether that’s CFL or NFL. If those opportunities present themselves, I look forward to going down that road after the season.”

If it all works out for him, he could take his sibling rivalry to the highest level possible a year from now.

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