On Friday night rookie Nathan Rourke got the surprise start for the BC Lions in their season-opener at Mosaic Field, becoming the first Canadian quarterback to start for the Lions in 25 years.
13th Man’s Tom Lizardo caught up with Rourke after yesterday’s practice.
Tom Lizardo: Nathan, thanks for taking the time to talk.
Nathan Rourke: My pleasure.
TL: So, you were cast into the most unlikely role on Friday night, you’re coming on the field with no preseason so you’ve not taken a single CFL game snap. Take us through your thought process as you are running onto the field to start the game.
NR: I wasn’t nervous, we had talked about it during the week, we were not 100 percent sure of (Michael Reilly’s) status and neither was he frankly. So they were saying “if Michaels’s not ready, make sure you are ready, and that you are preparing that way.”
Even if Michael was healthy and there was nothing in the air I would keep preparing like I was going to play. I mean, that’s just the way to do it, but they had talked about it. So, I was a bit surprised — yes — for sure, but it’s something we had talked about. And so, that definitely calmed my nerves a little bit. I just kinda proceeded as if everything was on schedule, I just wish the results would have shown that. I really felt it was just another day at the office kind of deal.
TL: Yeah, that’s interesting because, of course, this would not be easy if you had a preseason, it’s Mosaic and perhaps the CFLs best secondary, and yet repeatedly everybody is saying how poised you look. What kind of preparation, both for this game and in life, allows you to be so poised in this situation?
NR: I don’t know, I think throughout camp, and preparation leading up to the game, I try to get into the headspace of a lot of gratefulness and being in awe of the fact that a year ago I was out in Ontario and hoping they’d have a season. Then, a year later, I’m able to play pro football, and I think that is kinda cool. When I get into that mindset, the pressure I might put on myself kind of fades away, and I just remember how much I love the game.
And, I think the way the coaches here in B.C. prepare us during practice and throughout the week if there’s a bump in the road or a starter may not be able to go that’s okay. I was able to get a majority of the reps during the week and we just kind of moved along. So, I think it’s a credit to the organization.
TL: Michael Reilly has to be a big part of that game prep right? I mean, in a league where we often see 3rd Down Specialist QBs, Reilly pretty much takes every snap when he’s healthy. But, here he is sitting with you reviewing plays during the game. Talk about how important it is to have his help.
NR: He’s amazing, it’s so cool to work with a Hall of Famer like him. Like you said, I hadn’t had any snaps but he’s seen every kind of situation and he’s got every concept. He’s been in this offence a long time, when he started learning this thread of offence I was a junior in high school.
So, he’s seen it all and his insights are so vital for me and my development, so any type of success I might have this year is a big credit to him and (OC Jordan Maksymic) and the rest of the guys.
We have a very supportive quarterback room. If it was the other way around and Mike was healthy I’d do my best to continue to learn but to be supportive in the same way.
TL: Your college career shows you to be a weapon with your feet as well as your arm, and it looked like once you got comfortable back there you started to show your mobility. Does this come naturally, or is it something you see in sideline review?
NR: That’s definitely something reflective of the offence. In school at Ohio, they really wanted to run the quarterbacks and make sure the quarterback was a threat in the running game whether he had the ball or not. We ran the option, we ran the zone read. When we gave the ball to the running back we made sure we were really good with our fakes and would help holding defenders without blocking them. It was a very vital part of the way we moved the football up and down the field.
At this level, certainly in the CFL, it’s a much lesser part of the offence, as it is in ours at B.C. So, you know, when something breaks down I think I will be able to show I can make people miss and extend plays if need be.
This offence is based on rhythm and timing, we need to get the ball to the right place at the right time, so there’s not a lot of time or as much space to ad-lib as much as in other systems I’ve been in, so that is part of the learning curve for me.
TL: So the Lions claw your way back into the game and you’re in there for the final minutes. But your Defence comes alive in the 2nd half. Give us your impressions of how the defensive effort kept you in the game in that 2nd half.
NR: We really didn’t give them a lot of help in the first half. (The Riders) had long drives and then we were two-and-out. (In the second half) we were able to put more drives together and our defence made some more plays.
I’m not really sure what Sask’s plan was but I don’t know that it changes too much (in the 2nd half)… our defence really made some plays to get a turnover and send some momentum back in our direction, that was great.
As a team, I think we really made a statement at halftime to say “even though we’re down by a whole bunch, it doesn’t matter and we are going to show that we got some fight in us,” and I think that was really cool to see.
TL: That last play you are on the field you take a chance under pressure, but I’m thinking you knew you couldn’t take the sack and just had to try to make something happen, is that about right?
NR: Yeah, that’s about it, I was trying to force something that wasn’t there. Like you said, there was a guy around me, I was about to fall and just trying to get the ball out of my hands and not take the sack. We did not have any timeouts left. If I had it to do over again I’d just throw the ball to the ground at his feet.
TL: Anything else this experience taught you, or you’d like to say?
ROURKE: … I’m looking forward to the next game. It’s good to get the initial experience, to get all “the firsts” out of the way. Now, I’m just focused on winning football games going forward.
TL: Nathan, I know you’ve had a long day so I will let you go but thanks for your time and best wishes going forward.
NR: My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity.