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Ohio QB Nathan Rourke's search for success covered two countries and three states

12/17/2018, 5:30pm PST
By Kirk Kenney

Nathan Rourke,Maleek Irons

If Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke had it his way, football would be played with an additional man on each side and multiple players in motion every play while running around on a wider field.

That’s how Rourke grew up with the game.

Rourke was raised in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. North of the border, football is played with 12 men to a side, where nearly half of them (rather than one) are allowed to be in motion simultaneously and where the field measures 65 yards across (nearly 12 more yards than in the college game).

The 6-foot-2 junior gravitated toward the American game since the age of 6, developing a fondness for Green Bay and quarterback Brett Favre.

“Following the Packers and aspiring to be like him led me to football, and I just stuck with it,” Rourke said.

There was something else that pointed him toward a future in football rather than, say, hockey.

“I’m not a very good skater,” he said.

The Bobcats are the beneficiaries. Ohio (8-4) comes into Wednesday night’s Frisco Bowl against San Diego State (7-5) with the country’s 10th-ranked offense averaging 41 points a game.

Ohio has a strong running game — the Bobcats have rushed for more than 3,000 yards this season — and talented receivers. But make no mistake, Rourke is the one who makes it go.

“He’s got all the intangibles,” Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “Early to practice. Is a film junkie. He missed spring practice after surgery (on his non-throwing arm) and all that time he couldn’t practice he was in the film room. He knows everybody’s job on the offense. ...

“We let him do what he wants to do at the line of scrimmage.”

Over the past two seasons, Rourke has been among the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He’s completed 58 percent of his passes for 4,428 yards and 39 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 1,723 yards and another 34 TDs.

“You have the opinion that they’re a run team first, which they have been late in the season, and they’ve been really, really good at it,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. “Then you go back earlier in the season to try to find out who played the best defense against them and what I found out looking back is that their quarterback is really, really accurate with the football.”

Ohio head coach Frank Solich’s familiarity with recruiting Canadian players — senior running back Maleek Irons (831 yards and eight TDs) is from British Columbia — meant the Bobcats recruited Rourke without hesitation.

They were one of the few teams to do so, even after Rourke moved to the U.S. to get more exposure.

“I went to high school for my senior year in Alabama and over the summer we went to a whole bunch of 7-on-7 camps,” Rourke said. “That was really important for me, for really seeing the field, the kind of schemes we could do and what the defense was giving me.”

Rourke led Alabama’s Edgewood Academy to a Class AA state championship and undefeated season, passing for 3,779 yards and 59 touchdowns.

But he didn’t receive a major college scholarship offer, so he enrolled at a JC in Kansas, Fort Scott Community College, where he passed for 2,367 yards and 18 TDs.

That’s where he came to the attention of Albin, whose roots to the area go back three decades. Watching film of Rourke convinced Albin that he would be a good fit in the Bobcats offense.

“He did a lot of creating with his feet in junior college,” Albin said. “The way he scrambled and moved around in the pocket, you knew that he could elude guys. Did you know he was going to be as elusive as he is here? No, but we recruit mobile quarterbacks. We need a guy who can extend plays. And he can do that.”

While he took a rather circuitous route to Division I college football, Rourke has paved the way some for Canadian players coming after him.

Like his younger brother.

Kurtis Rourke, a quarterback for Ontario’s Holy Trinity High, has a Division I scholarship all lined up. To Ohio.

kirk.kenney@sduniontribune.com / on Twitter: @sdutkirKDKenney

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