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Ohio University QB Kurtis Rourke ranked No. 1 prospect on CFL scouting list

TORONTO — Kurtis Rourke has secured family bragging rights. The Ohio University quarterback was the top player listed Thursday in the CFL Scouting Bureau's fall edition of the top-20 prospects for next year's draft.
Kurtis Rourke secured family bragging rights Thursday. Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke (7) gestures during an NCAA college football game against Akron, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Athens, Ohio. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Emilee Chinn

TORONTO — Kurtis Rourke has secured family bragging rights.

The Ohio University quarterback was the top player listed Thursday in the CFL Scouting Bureau's fall edition of the top-20 prospects for next year's draft. It's one of the few accomplishments that escaped Rourke's heralded older brother, Nathan, who's currently battling for a roster spot with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Nathan and I being competitive, I think if I need to, it would be something I bring up maybe down the road," Kurtis Rourke said during a CFL video conference. "It's quite the honour, for sure."

Rourke, of Oakville, Ont., begins his '23 season Saturday when Ohio University faces San Diego State.

Gabe Wallace of Salmon Arm, B.C., an offensive lineman at Buffalo, was ranked second overall ahead of UBC offensive lineman Theo Benedet, of North Vancouver, B.C. Benedet was one of just two Canadian university player to crack the top-10.

Teammate Giovanni Manu, an offensive lineman from Pitt Meadows, B.C., was at No. 8.

Toronto's Kyle Hergel, an offensive lineman at Boston College, drew the No. 5 spot while Isaiah Adams, of Ajax, Ont., an offensive lineman at Illinois, was sixth.

Rounding out the top-10, were Auburn receiver Nick Mardner (Oakville, Ont.); Purdue offensive lineman Daniel Johnson, of London, Ont.; Calgary's Justin Sambu (defensive lineman, Baylor); and Memphis linebacker Geoffrey Cantin-Arku, of Levis, Que.

The six-foot-four, 216-pound Rourke threw for 3,257 yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions over 11 games last season. But Rourke suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 32-18 victory over Ball State on Nov. 15.

Rourke also ran for 245 yards and four TDs in being named the Mid-American Conference (MAC) MVP and offensive player of the year.

Rourke had a record-breaking performance during a 59-52 win over Fordham. He finished 41-of-50 passing for a school-record 537 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 45 yards and a TD. It broke the previous mark of 409 yards that Donny Harrison set in 1983 versus Kent State.

The younger Rourke redshirted at Ohio in 2019 when his brother was in his final season there. Nathan Rourke captured the Jon Cornish Trophy twice (2017-18) as Canada's top NCAA player and after being bypassed in the NFL draft joined the CFL's B.C. Lions, who took Rourke in the second round of the '20 draft.

After making two starts in '21, Rourke became the Lions' starter in 2022. And although surgery for a Lisfranc sprain to his right foot limited Rourke to 10 games, he was the CFL's top Canadian after passing for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns while rushing 39 times for 304 yards and seven TDs.

Kurtis Rourke said his dream has always been to play pro football, either in Canada or the NFL. But his primary goal this season is helping Ohio University win an MAC title.

But if he wishes, Rourke could remain in school, as per pandemic exemption rules, and put his pro aspirations on hold until 2025.

"Statistically I had a good year last year and that's not saying that's where the bar is set," he said. "I think a lot of people will take notice if the team's doing well and so the better the team is doing I think the more opportunities I'll have to come out this year."

Rourke said he enters the '23 season with no trepidation or concern regarding his injured knee. However, he admitted the road back wasn't an easy one.

"I knew it was going to be a tough road trying to get back but my goal was to play this week even when I hurt it back in November," Rourke said. "Initially when you come back to running full speed and working on your agility and cuts, it can be hard to trust the injured leg.

"I feel great now and have full trust in both of my legs and that I can do whatever move or action I need to do. It was certainly, at the start, very challenging."

Rourke said he hasn't necessarily drawn extra confidence watching his older brother perform this summer with the Jaguars. He's just enjoyed looking on as a football fan.

"Just being able to watch his pre-season has been nice, just to see him tear it up in a different league," Kurtis Rourke said. "I think it would be awesome if we could play against each other in whatever fashion that is."

When the two brothers were growing up, Kurtis Rourke said he had the stronger arm of the two. But he now sees how Nathan Rourke's game has improved with pro coaching and playing at that level.

"Growing up I think I definitely had a stronger arm and really kind of was able to be a little bit more accurate," Kurtis Rourke said. "But he's really become such a polished quarterback now and it's hard to compete with him."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press