BOISE, Idaho — There are many ways to measure the impact that Nathan Rourke has had on the Bobcats over the last three seasons.
There’s been wins on the field, and there’s been academic success off of it. There’s been a huge swath of the Ohio record book listings impacted and altered in Rourke’s name. Rourke, the senior quarterback, has been a leader, a work-horse and a stand-up guy even when Ohio’s current season didn’t turn out as planned.
In short, said Ohio quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording, he’s been everything.
“He’s been as good a player I’ve coached in all my years of doing this,” Isphording said earlier this month. “You look at all the things he’s able to do physically, his talent, his knowledge of the game, the way he leads this team, the way he works?
“I’ve never worked with a better guy.”
It’s high praise that runs through the width of the program. Ohio (6-6) puts the last touch on the 2019 season on Friday when it faces Nevada (7-5) in the 23rd annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Kickoff from Albertsons Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. ET, and the game will air live on ESPN.
But the Bobcats will also be playing with Rourke — the Canadian import that did it all for three full seasons — for the final time. It will be Rourke’s 39th game as a Bobcat, and his 37th start.
“He’s been tremendous for this program, and he’s been great for this conference,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich, whose even demeanor is reflected in the way Rourke has approached every game of his senior season.
“You couldn’t ask for a guy who’s a better leader, that had a great work ethic that sets the pace for the rest of his teammates,” the coach continued. “And a guy that (has) talent. And even though he’s got talent, he’s worked every year to get better. and that’s shown in his play.”
It’s as close as effusive with praise as Solich will get. And the reasons are obvious.
Rourke will finish his career as the top-rated passer in Ohio history (149.9 career passer rating), and will finish as one of the top five Bobcat QBs in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns (second), passing attempts and completion percentage (third), and yards per completion (fifth).
But that’s only half the story with Rourke, who has proven to be as elusive, fast and tough as any running quarterback in program history.
Rourke is second in program history with 48 rushing touchdowns, second in OU history with 6.1 yards per carry, and second in the Ohio record book with 9,860 yards of total offense.
All told, Rourke has accounted for 110 touchdowns — a program record that ranks second among all active FBS players. His 2019 season has included 2,676 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, 780 rushing yards and 12 touchdown runs, all while setting career-best marks in completion percentage (61.4 percent) and interceptions (5).
And Rourke is close to joining some elite company. No MAC quarterback has accounted for 50 touchdown passes and 50 touchdown runs over their career. Rourke could be the first if he scores twice on the ground against Nevada.
And Rourke, with 60 career passing touchdowns, could become just one of four players in college football history to reach the 50/50 mark. Only Florida’s Tim Tebow (2006-09, 57 rushing-88 passing), Nevada’s own Colin Kaepernick (2007-10, 59-82) and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (2015-17, 50-69) have produced 50/50 careers.
It’s all a little much for Rourke, a Canadian transplant who played seasons in Alabama (high school) and Kansas (junior college) before finding a home in Athens.
“At the end of the day, it’s cool to leave a legacy but my priorities are still with the team and not team statistics,” Rourke said earlier this month. “I’m going to try to enjoy it the best I can and savor every moment.”
Rourke now sits in that peculiar spot that many seniors find themselves in. There’s one game left, and a potential professional career awaits on the horizon. And with Rourke, yes, there will be opportunities.
The Canadian Football League (CFL) Scouting Bureau ranked him No. 3 in its second edition of top-20 eligible prospects list in November. The group’s final rankings will come out again in April.
Rourke also has an invitation to compete in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, on Jan. 18, 2020 at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. More than 200 scouts, player personnel staff, general managers and head coaches from all 32 NFL teams are expected to be there to watch live practices, conduct player interviews and review tape.
“I just want to continue playing wherever that’s going to be. Shooting for the NFL, but the CFL isn’t something bad to fall back on,” Rourke said. “But really, I’m looking forward to just continuing to play.”
So as the clock ticks down on Rourke’s final days as a Bobcat and a college football player, it’s impossible to escape thinking about his legacy, of what will remain after Friday.
There are the records of course, the potential personal marks and notoriety, and the possibility of pro career that all could etch Rourke’s name even further into the annals of program lore. But for those who have played alongside, watched and coached Rourke over the last three seasons, his legacy is already set.
He’s the guy that stays after practice and convinces wide outs to run extra routes with him. He’s the guy that charges up the hill behind the scoreboard for extra conditioning after the warm summer and autumn practices.
He’s the guy that answers the questions after a tough loss.
He’s the guy hasn’t missed a responsibility, or failed a class, or represented Ohio in any other way than in an upright fashion.
Rourke was an afterthought, a throw of the dice, as part of the 2017 recruiting class. Three years later he’ll leave as one of the legends of the program, a quarterback who parlayed grit and an unique skillset into a lot of wins, a ton of stats and respect earned everywhere the Bobcats played.
Rourke has done everything asked of him at Ohio. And he said he’s been paid back in kind. With one game still remaining, he can admit that much at least.
“There’s not one thing I can pinpoint,” Rourke said last month.
“I know it’s a special place. It’s one of those things when you know it, you know it. You just appreciate it for what it is.”