The signature blue turf in Albertsons Stadium was engulfed in a sea of white uniforms. The Ohio Bobcats were reveling in their new annual tradition — celebrating a bowl victory to end the season. In the center of it all was one of the lead architects behind the Bobcats’ newfound success. After defeating Nevada 30-21 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and claiming the event’s MVP honors, three-year starting quarterback Nathan Rourke became the third quarterback in MAC history to win three-consecutive bowl games.
Nathan tightly secured a game-ball in the aftermath of the win, shook hands with Nevada personnel, and serached for his most familiar teammate — his brother and backup quarterback, Kurtis Rourke. While Nathan’s highly successful campaign at Ohio was witnessing its final of its several triumphs, his freshman brother was experiencing his first bowl victory as a member of the Bobcats’ roster. As the two lifelong teammates embraced, the metaphorical torch had been passed to the potential future of the Nathan’s former program.
“If you’ve got a great program and a great culture, you’ve gotta replace great players,” Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said.
If Kurtis Rourke is the future of the Ohio Bobcats in the post-Nathan Rourke era, who is Kurtis Rourke?
“He’s different from Nathan. He’s different in a good way,” says Albin. “Kurtis has got a couple inches on Nathan as far as height, so he’s gonna have a little more pop in his arm strength. Kurtis’ knowledge of the offense, as where he is as a redshirt freshman, is gonna be huge for us because Kurtis actually enrolled with us last spring... so he’s gonna be farther ahead than what people give him credit for.”
With Nathan running the show for nearly the entirety of 2019, Kurtis appeared in just one contest as a freshman — a 66-24 rout of Bowling Green. The 6’3”, 211-pound quarterback handled three carries for 20 rushing yards.
“We have a criteria that we look for in quarterbacks. All of our guys can move. That’s one of the things we look for — a guy that’s able to create with his feet,” Albin said. “Kurtis can definitely extend plays, he’s a very good athlete, he’s got incredible hand-eye coordination, and I like his temperament.”
The only exposure college football fans have to Kurtis Rourke is his rushing ability. While Kurtis can excel in that area, it’s his cannon arm which makes him a viable candidate to continue the Rourke quarterback legacy at Ohio. He isn’t a complete carbon copy of Nathan, and his increased arm strength presents a new tactical weapon in the Bobcats’ future game plans.
“He’s more mobile than people give him credit. I think I would definitely be more mobile, but he’s more of a pure passer than I am,” Nathan said. “He’s definitely got a stronger arm, but Coach Albin’s gonna run what he wants to run in terms of the option and stuff like that, but there’s definitely going to be a change in how they’re getting there.”
On the third and final rushing attempt against Bowling Green, however, Rourke exited the game with an apparent injury, one that would keep him sidelined for the remainder of the night. His true freshman season at Ohio ceased in a flash of lightning, and he underwent left shoulder surgery in late November.
“He’s just coming off a shoulder surgery, so he’ll be healthy moving into next season,” Nathan said. “But he’s so fun to watch. I had such a great time watching him when he was in high school. I didn’t get to go to any games, but I got to watch his highlights. He’s a really good teammate. He was a really good teammate to me last year, and that’s what made last year so special — having him in the same room.”
But after three impressive runs, Kurtis’ short-lived 2019 season left Ohio fans wanting more. And even without throwing a pass at the Division I level, Kurtis is a candidate in Ohio’s open-quarterback competition heading into 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently preventing typical spring ball drills from occurring, but Kurtis will have more recovery time to prepare for the moment football returns to campuses around the country.
“For him to be the next guy up, that would be awesome, and I think he’s in a very good position to do so,” Nathan said.
Nathan’s former presence on the Bobcat roster allowed Kurtis to be discovered by Ohio’s coaching staff long before he was a fully-developed passer. When Albin first met Kurtis, the future Bobcat was a 5’10” high schooler. Kurtis, a diehard Jacksonville Jaguars fan, originally connected with Albin by discussing Jaguars football. At the time, Jacksonville was coached by Albin’s former colleague Gus Bradley, who served as North Dakota State’s defensive coordinator while Albin held the position of offensive coordinator there in 2004.
“He came to one of Nathan’s first games. I remember meeting the family at the hotel, and Kurtis might have been under 5’10”,” Albin said. “Then I remember playing at Buffalo, and the Rourkes lived maybe an hour from there. Seeing Kurtis after the game with his mom and dad — he went from 5’10” to 6’1”, and by the end of the season at the bowl game, Kurtis was up to 6’2” to 6’3”. He hit a huge growth spurt in the span of about 14 months or so. We got a chance to work with him in camp two different times, and our relationship with the family... it all factored in (to recruiting him).”
Kurtis first stepped foot on campus for a football camp in 2017. Two and half years and a massive growth spurt later, he was teammates with Nathan, shadowing his older brother in practices and following in the footsteps of the player responsible for the most touchdowns in Bobcat history.
One asset of Nathan that was frequently praised by Ohio’s coaching staff was his ability to study an opponent in preparation for a game. That learning DNA is apparent through Kurtis, who already demonstrates an advanced knowledge of Albin’s system despite commanding just one offensive possession wearing an Ohio uniform.
“I think he’s ahead of the curve,” Albin said. “He is coming off a minor surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Right now he’s ahead of schedule, and we’re excited about his future.”
But just like most programs around the country enduring a QB change this offseason, Ohio isn’t ready to crown a starting quarterback for the 2020 season yet. After Nathan Rourke’s 2019 backup Joe Mischler transferred to Duquesne this offseason, Kurtis is one of two Bobcats with in-game experience at quarterback. The other is Drew Keszei, who switched from quarterback to receiver last spring, only to rejoin the quarterback room late last season. Keszei completed his only passing attempt thus far, a 21-yard completion on the final drive of Ohio’s 52-3 domination of Akron in the regular season finale.
But Kurtis is certainly a contender to follow up and fulfill the role one held by another Rourke next fall.
“It’s an open competition. He’s gotta go out there and earn it,” Albin said. “He certainly has that ‘Rourke work ethic.’ Time will tell as far as where we are at the quarterback spot. As of right now, our glass if half full and we’re excited about getting started.”