March 20, 2023
Rourke starts for the Lions in the regular season finals against the Blue Bombers -

Rourke starts for the Lions in the regular season finals against the Blue Bombers –

SURREY, BC — There were days this fall when BC Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke needed to take his mind off football.

After a stunning start to the CFL season, the Canadian was sidelined in mid-August with a foot injury that required surgery and doctors ordered him to stay off the field.

“For a good second I tried to forget about football,” Rourke said on Tuesday. “I’ve been trying to distract myself with friends and family and their support.

“I looked at a lot of things on the internet. … There were days when you don’t even want to think about it. So I just did film marathons and stuff like that.”

Now, after nearly nine weeks of recovery and rehabilitation, the 24-year-old is back in action.

Lions head coach and assistant general manager Rick Campbell said Tuesday he expects Rourke to start Friday when BC (12-5) wraps up its regular-season campaign against league-leading Blue Bombers (14-3) in Winnipeg.

Rourke will play “about a quarter” just to get back into a game’s rhythm, Campbell said.

“It’s part of what we’ve talked about over the weeks,” he said. “We could go down the route of just letting him play in the West Division semi-finals, but I think he’ll feel better if he gets back out there and gets some live action and just come back to that. So that’s all part of this whole journey back to gaming.”

The Ohio University graduate is happy with the plan.

“I’m just happy to have the chance to play and I think this week is definitely a bonus,” Rourke said. “I think we were pretty sure throughout the process that I would be able to play in the playoff games and everything else we waited on. Being at that point is pretty cool.”

The six-foot-tall, 209-pound quarterback was a dominant force early in the CFL season, throwing for 3,281 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in nine games.

He couldn’t run distances during rehab, so Rourke kept fit by swimming three or four times a week, starting about four weeks after surgery.

The regime has done him good, said experienced wide receiver Bryan Burnham.

“Looks like he hasn’t lost a shot man,” he said after Tuesday’s practice session. “It’s fun to watch him. He’s a special player. And good to have his energy out there again.”

Burnham, too, is working back from an injury after sustaining a broken wrist in a 25-11 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Sept. 24.

The Lions have kept the University of Tulsa product off the injury list for six games, but he’s not expected to return to the lineup until Nov. 6, when BC hosts Calgary in the West Division semifinals.

However, BC will get some other key figures back for Friday’s game, including receiver Lucky Whitehead, who missed three games with an ankle injury.

“Of course I have to be smart. I’m still in the healing process, but of course I can’t go out there and think about it too much,” Whitehead said of his return. “I have to go out there, be myself, play fast, be smart about it.”

Despite the injury spate, the Lions have gone 4-4 since Rourke was injured in a 28-10 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Aug. 19.

The team has found many different ways to win games, said the QB, who has remained a fixture at the team’s Surrey, BC facility and on the touchlines.

“I’ve seen a lot of different guys,” Rourke said. “Not only have I gone down, but a lot of guys go down who give us valuable minutes and a lot of guys have come up. So it was really good to see.

“We didn’t win games like we did in the first half of the season. It’s good to know that we can win in different ways.”

Now the players who were sidelined are working their way back into the lineup – and that’s what you want coming into the playoffs, Burnham said.

“Injuries happen in football so it’s very special that all these guys are getting sort of healthy and ready to fight for this year’s Gray Cup,” he said.

“I just have to do it one game at a time and we have one game left in the regular season. So, even though the playoff positions are set, (Friday) is still an important game.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 25, 2022.

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