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Canadian QB Rourke eager to launch fresh start with Hoosiers’ ‘NFL-like’ offence

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For most of this college football season, former Ohio Bobcats quarterback Kurtis Rourke was operating under the belief this would be his final season of NCAA football.

But on Thursday, the Oakville, Ont., native and brother of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nathan Rourke announced he will play one more season, transferring from Ohio in the Mid-American Conference to Indiana University in the Big 10.

Rourke is an important addition for Curt Cignetti, the Hoosiers new head coach who was introduced just two weeks ago, fresh off his James Madison University season with the Dukes that ended at 11-1.

In five years at JMU, Cignetti had a five-year record of 52-9, while consistently having one of the Sun Belt Conference’s highest-scoring offences. Last season, they averaged 430.3 yards and 35.2 points per game.

“They’re a winning staff, and ever since my first phone call, they said they are all about winning and they are not looking to rebuild this year, they are looking to have a good year – I love that,” said Rourke. “That was a big part of my decision.

“The other reason I chose Indiana is the offence that they run is very NFL-like, and if I’m trying to set myself up best to play in the NFL, why not do an offence that emulates an NFL offence.

“I think it’s going to be a very exciting and intriguing opportunity.”

Rourke said although Indiana has said it would like him to be their No. 1 quarterback, the Hoosiers haven’t promised the 23-year-old the job.

In order to secure it, he’ll have to win it.

Which is why going to a place with a new coaching staff was part of his calculation, knowing that everyone is getting a fresh start – transfers and holdovers.

Rourke certainly has the experience to win the job. He has thrown for 7,651 yards in his college career and 50 touchdowns, being named the MAC conference’s offensive player of the year in 2022.

His biggest potential obstacle at Indiana, redshirt freshman Brendan Sorsby and last season’s starter, has transferred to the University of Cincinnati. Sorsby made roughly two thirds of the Hoosiers’ throws this season and played in 10 games.

Tayven Jackson is another redshirt freshman, who played in six games for the Hoosiers, attempting 128 passes after transferring from Tennessee.

Freshman Broc Lowry was a three-star recruit who was rated a top-25 pocket passer nationally and the top high school quarterback in Ohio but he did not see playing time last season in Indiana.

Blaze McKibbon, a redshirt junior, and Roman Purcell, a sophomore, have no stats from their time as quarterbacks at Indiana.

“No matter where I went I was going to have to compete,” said Rourke. “Nothing was going to be handed to me and that’s not the way I want it anyway. There’s some great quarterbacks in the program and I’m going to have to play the best that I can to win and earn the reps for the games … I’ve got be able to go in there from day one and show my worth and win the job.”

Rourke announced on Dec. 5 that he was entering the college football transfer portal, seeking to gauge interest before deciding whether to take advantage of the extra season granted to him by the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season.

A year ago, before suffering an ACL injury in November, Rourke was generating legitimate NFL buzz and would have attracted great attention in the transfer portal.

Instead, he suffered an ACL injury and spent the off-season re-habbing.

From a statistical perspective, Rourke’s 2023 campaign didn’t come close to the previous season, fuelling speculation that he wasn’t fully recovered from the knee injury. Rourke dismisses that notion, attributing most of the statistical decline to the team’s vastly improved defence that kept them out of shootout games where passing stats tend to soar, as they did for Ohio in 2022.

It was enough to make Rourke reconsider this being his final season of college football.

“The stats weren’t there as much and I want to set myself up to play in the NFL,” Rourke said. “So talking to important people in my life, I wanted to explore the portal because that would help ultimately help raise my draft stock if I had a good year. This is all about what could put me in the best situation two or three years from now.”

At 6-foot-5 and lots of room to add to his 216-pound frame, Rourke has NFL measurable qualities and, according to his coaches at Ohio, an NFL arm.

He’s also attracted lots of attention in the CFL, where his brother starred with the BC Lions in 2022. Last fall, Rourke was rated the No. 1 prospect for this coming CFL Canadian Draft, a distinction never before held by a quarterback. With his decision to play college football next season, his NFL and CFL Draft years both move to 2025.

Playing at a higher level will mean having better players around him but also stiffer competition on the other side of the ball. Next season, Indiana will face such juggernaut teams as UCLA, Washington, Ohio State and Michigan.

“The teams we will be playing are powerhouses and have been in college football,” said Rourke. “It’s just such a good opportunity to be able to play them and see how well we can play against that level of competition.”