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Lions praise ex-teammate Rourke in bid to make NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars

SURREY, B.C. — A video of a fourth-quarter touchdown throw from ex-B. C. Lion Nathan Rourke went viral on social media last week in his first pre-season game for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
A video of a touchdown from ex-B. C. Lion Nathan Rourke went viral last week as he suited up in his first pre-season game for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rourke (18) throws a touchdown pass during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Ainsworth

SURREY, B.C. — A video of a fourth-quarter touchdown throw from ex-B. C. Lion Nathan Rourke went viral on social media last week in his first pre-season game for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

In the video, the 25-year-old Victoria native evades three tacklers before a Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman grabs hold of Rourke by the waist.

As he was being pulled down, Rourke managed to throw a 21-yard pass to Qadree Ollison to seal the 28-23 win. He ran in a four-yard TD just a few minutes earlier — along with a pass to get the two-point conversion — to put the Jags ahead 22-16.

"It was pretty incredible. Toughness and poise in the pocket to make a play like that," said Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson after the game. "I haven't seen too many plays like that."

The play was praised by NFL analysts and even NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.

But his former CFL teammates and coach say they're unsurprised by his start.

"He is who he is. He's a playmaker, a great quarterback, a great leader and I'm excited to see him excel on that level," said Lions wide receiver Keon Hatcher.

Hatcher said he recognized Rourke's potential when he first arrived in Canada in 2021.

"I saw how special he was," Hatcher said. "He got that dog in him … I expect nothing less from him."

After primarily being a backup in 2021 with B.C., Rourke broke out in his first year as the full-time starter in 2022.

Rourke threw for 3,349 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in just 10 games. However, he had his season cut short with a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot. 

He also had 304 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

He won the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian award in recognition of his efforts, becoming only the third quarterback in history to do so.

Rourke's touchdown throw was shown on the jumbotron at BC Place during the Lions' win over the Calgary Stampeders to raucous cheers last Saturday.

Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who took over the starting role after Rourke left, said he texted his former teammate after the game.

"He said he was just trying to bring out his inner (Vernon Adams)," Adams said with a laugh. "That was a strong throw. Him holding another dude up and yeah, I've never done anything like that."

Adams added that the play showed Rourke's core strength.

"You have to have a strong core, a strong lower half and he demonstrated all of that," said Adams.

Lions head coach Rick Campbell was also full of praise for his former quarterback.

"I've said this: don't ever bet against that guy. He will never back down from any challenge. I hope the NFL is smart enough to keep him around," he said.

Rourke signed a deal with the Jaguars in January after working out for several other NFL teams.

Despite his pre-season heroics, the Canadian hasn't moved up Jacksonville's depth chart.

Pederson said Saturday that Rourke remains pencilled into the No. 3 spot behind starter Trevor Lawrence and backup C.J. Beathard.

Beathard, a backup in his sixth NFL season, played the first half of Jacksonville's 25-7 win over Detroit on Saturday. He connected on 12 of 20 passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“I like the way C.J. operates, the way he thinks,” Pederson said. “He's tough. You saw some of the athleticism.”

Working in relief, Rourke went 10-of-12 for 121 yards and added 14 rushing yards on six carries.

"Nathan did well again today. Couple of touchdown drives there, he's done a nice job and exactly what we asked him to do," Pederson said in regards to Rourke. "C.J.'s the No. 2 and Trevor obviously, No. 1."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press