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Nathan Rourke poses for a portait on the field in Peden Stadium on April 11, 2017. (EMILY MATTHEWS | PHOTO EDITOR)

Football: The twists and turns of Nathan Rourke's journey

Nathan Rourke was more prepared than ever. He had a notebook out, ready to take notes on whatever he was told. 

As Ohio quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording walked through the door, he was shocked.

"He’s the first guy that I ever went to see on a recruiting visit that when I got there, he had a notebook and was writing down everything I said," Isphording said. "He hadn’t even committed to be a Bobcat yet."

It became clear at that moment that Rourke wasn't a typical recruit.

His journey, now as a college sophomore no less, has spanned three states, a Canadian province and four levels of football. 

But maybe the strangest part is that his journey can be represented by a single notebook, a single representation of what he had done and what he had left to accomplish.

“This is 24, 25 years of college coaching and no one has ever shown up with a notebook," Isphording said. "That’s a great testament to who he is. He’s certainly continued to work that way since he got here.”


Rourke was never typical. 

As a young child in Oakville, Ontario, Rourke opted to watch a replay of the 1997 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots over any other videos. 

"Nathan didn't want to watch any cartoons, any age-appropriate television, all he wanted to watch was that football DVD," Nathan's mother, Robyn, said. "He watched it over and over and over. His number is generally four, for the longest time Brett Favre was his hero."

The video obviously stuck. As Nathan grew up, his football career blossomed to a level where he was being recognized all over Canada.

When Nathan was in high school, he was one of the most decorated players in Canada. He ranked sixth in the class of 2016's recruiting ranking in Canada and threw for 33 passing touchdowns and rushed for seven touchdowns with just five interceptions as a junior. But there was a problem. 

Scholarship offers never came.

“Super frustrating," Nathan said. "Looking back, I mean it doesn’t matter, I’m here now. I kind of expected it to happen right away, obviously that didn’t happen. ... I carry that chip on my shoulder.”

The five players ahead of Nathan eventually committed to: North Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, Northwestern and Oklahoma State, respectively. Rourke remained un-committed. 

"The game there was never really something I wanted to be a part of, I really wanted to play in the states, from a young age, I knew that’s what I wanted to do," Nathan said. 

So after Nathan's junior year, he looked toward the United States to continue his football career. Eventually Nathan and his family settled on Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama. 

The academy had the nation's longest winning streak at that time, 57-games. Nathan was headed there to be the starting quarterback.

But compared to Oakville, a suburb of Toronto, Elmore might as well have been a world away. It was 1,021 miles away from home for Nathan. And with him, it was never as easy as it seemed.


Nathan made the trip to Alabama in spring of 2015 to join his new team down south. But as he prepared for the season, he and his family ran into another problem. 

The international agency that had set Nathan up "withdrew" a couple of weeks before school started. Nathan had already gone through spring football, summer workouts and had started fall camp with his new team. The only way to make it work became clear at that point. 

At the end of August, Nathan was joined by his mother and younger brother, Kurtis, in Alabama.

"That was great, we enjoyed the football season because down in the Deep South, they love their football," Robyn said. "We’re much more relaxed about football and sports here in Canada. Really it was a lot of fun and it was exciting, the longer that we stayed, we realized we were quite different."

Nathan's father Larry stayed in Oakville, however, as the family was split up across two different countries.

"It’s not easy to be without your family, but I went down for probably half-a-dozen games in total, I went down on Thursday and came back on Sunday at least to try to keep in touch that way," he said. "It was a bit of a whirlwind year for us, that’s for sure.”

Despite the confusion and craziness, Nathan shined on the field in ways he never had before. He threw for 59 touchdowns, passed for 3,779 yards with just three interceptions in his senior year. His 59 touchdowns is tied for the most ever by an Alabama high schooler. 

He won Football Back of the Year for the Alabama Independent School Association division in 2015 and was named to the All-State team as Edgewood averaged 55.4 points per game. 

Yet Nathan received no Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers. His story became somewhat of a national one, as Yahoo! Sports wrote an article on him. So he had to look for another place to play football. He found one in Kansas.

"Even going to Kansas, he could’ve taken an FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) scholarship or come back to Canada and played at any of the universities but he wanted to go to the middle, literally, the central part of the United States," Larry said. "He went to what they call the SEC of junior college football."

Nathan packed his bags for Fort Scott Community College. This time, he would be alone. 


Nathan went to Fort Scott, Kansas, his third stop in three years, with Division I dreams. 

As his season progressed, he began to realize those dreams. At first, FCS schools began to approach him. Then FBS schools followed suit. 

"We weren’t really thinking of going to Alabama in particular, we really wanted to give me an opportunity, just a shot," Nathan said. "Obviously that didn’t work out and that’s why I ended up playing JUCO, but it was such a great experience.”

He finished his JUCO year with 18 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 2,367 yards passing. He made first team all-conference, too. That got Ohio's coaching staff interested.

"I don’t recruit Junior College quarterbacks a lot, but he was a full qualifier, kind of a unique situation," Isphording said. "Coach (Tim) Albin has recruited Kansas for a really long time, a number of coaches at junior colleges out there said great things about him. We’ve kind of found ourself a diamond in the rough out there.”

The quickest and most calm of his trips led Nathan to Athens in December. In a funny twist of fate, his quietest year of football netted him a Division I offer. It only seemed fair.

He got other interest from a number of FBS schools, including Akron. Akron was the only other school to offer him a scholarship.

"We didn’t really know a lot about Ohio (University) until we went on the visit with him," Larry said. "We knew of Ohio, but we didn’t know very much. We’ve gotten to know it really well in the last three and a half months.”  


Nathan took the snap in Ohio's pistol offense and scrambled right. 

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he's got the ideal size to play quarterback. But he also has the speed. In a scrimmage during spring practice, he juked out the entire defense and ran nearly the length of the field. 

"You saw his running ability in junior college, he’s got enough speed to be a threat, he seems to make good cuts," coach Frank Solich said. "I think he’s a really good all-around quarterback. I think he’ll just keep improving.

His moments are the reason why Isphording had to stop and smile before answering a question about Nathan's future. It's the reason why the entire team screamed and yelled when Nathan cut across midfield at Walter Fieldhouse. 

“He shows flashes of really being good," Solich said. "He’s capable of making all the throws, he’s got a good arm, he’s an accurate thrower, he seems to make good decisions, of course he’s learning the system but he’s picking it up pretty quick."

Nathan's career has looked like a roller coaster over the last four years, though it looks like his ride has stopped in Athens. Maybe he'll become the starter in his final three years, or maybe he won't. But whatever happens, he'll assuredly be able to handle it.

“This is a DI program. You’ve got community support, they give you a shirt and shorts and stuff," Nathan said. "You start to see that a lot of people feel like this is home, I’m starting to feel that too."


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