Critical Turning Points: Making Career-Defining Decisions in Professional Football

Critical moments in a football career come more suddenly than they do in most sports.

Sometimes they can be good, sometimes they can bad. But there are a few key points in every career that can change everything, and not always in a way a player can see coming.

A key decision, a critical play made or not made, an injury, ending up with the wrong or right coach – all can change the trajectory of a career in an instant on a journey where so much is beyond the player’s control.

Though it is still early in their careers, Oakville, Ont.’s Rourke brothers, Nathan and Kurtis, know all of this and more – especially as high-level quarterbacks.

And when it comes to turning points, moments they might one day look back on with favour or regret, this week has a lot of potential for both players.

We’ll start with Nathan.

The 25-year-old former B.C. Lion starter signed last off-season with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, raising eyebrows in his homeland over his decision to park himself behind a 23-year-old franchise quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick in Trevor Lawrence.

Upon signing, Nathan expressed confidence about getting an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 job. But when incumbent C.J. Beathard signed an extension weeks after Nathan’s arrival, coach Doug Pederson all but guaranteed the veteran pivot the backup job, a promise he kept right through training camp.

It didn’t matter how Nathan performed in the preseason. He was going to be No. 3 based solely on the fact that Pederson wanted experience in the No. 2 role and didn’t want to disturb the closeness that Lawrence seemed to embrace with Beathard.

Despite a preseason in which he engineered five touchdown drives in nine true opportunities, Nathan became a non-story by the end of training camp. He cleared waivers and ended up in the No. 3 slot on the practice roster.

That is until Monday night, when Lawrence suffered a sprained ankle late in the game against Cincinnati, the severity of which has been the subject of much speculation this week leading into the Jags game at Cleveland.

Lawrence wants to play but Pederson says he won’t risk his health for one game.

That makes it possible Nathan could be activated into the No. 2 role behind Beathard, who appeared to injure himself during his brief stint in relief against the Bengals. He was listed on Wednesday’s injury report as “limited” do to a shoulder issue.

All of this suggests that one of those critical turning points in Nathan’s career may occur as soon as this week. The nature of football is your opportunities so often depend on the health of your teammates.

Nathan isn’t a threat to Lawrence, but the opportunity to play isn’t about competing with a superstar on his own team. It’s about putting himself on display for 31 other teams and, quite possibly, setting himself up for future employment elsewhere, as Cincinnati’s Jake Browning may have done while subbing for Joe Burrow on Monday.

It’s unclear how long a rope Jacksonville will give to Beathard before turning to Nathan if he struggles in Lawrence’s absence. It’s also unclear how much the amazing preseason Nathan put down in August matters today.

It doesn’t sound like Lawrence will be out long enough for us to find out, so that may remain the biggest unanswered question about Nathan’s future.

Younger brother Kurtis, 23, made news this week by entering the college football transfer portal, the mechanism by which players can jump from one program to another.

Kurtis has played four seasons at Ohio but remains eligible for another year because of the COVID-interrupted 2020 season.

A year ago, Kurtis was gaining all kinds of recognition for a season in which he threw 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions and was named the MAC Conference offensive player of the year.

A transfer to an elite Power 5 school seemed like it might be in the cards before a November ACL injury ended his season early and left his status for this season in doubt right up until the end of training camp.

That, unfortunately, became one of those critical moments in Kurtis’ football journey thus far. When the games began in September, he wasn’t the same player. His mobility was hindered by the injury and scouts felt he’d lost some zip on his throws.

It all served to — at least statistically — paint a very different picture.

In 2022, Kurtis completed 69.1 per cent of his passes for 3,257 yards and a passer rating of 167.7. This season those numbers slipped to a 63.5 per cent completion percentage for 2,207 yards, 11 touchdown, 5 interceptions and a passer rating of 132.5.

While his coaches stated publicly last summer that Kurtis was worthy of being selected in the NFL draft, he now projects to be a priority free agent at best next spring. But even that’s not guaranteed.

The question of whether to leave college and train for the NFL and CFL drafts or give college football one more shot is not an easy one.

The upside would be finding a team he can start for among the Power 5 conferences, getting back to being healthy, and looking a lot more like the player he was in 2022. The downside would be failing to win a No. 1 job and being left to finish his college career on the sideline.

Kurtis hasn’t decided if he’ll play college football in 2024, despite having offers from BYU, Vanderbilt, and Wake Forest. He’s arrived at one of those forks in the road, where whatever decision he makes might look very good or very bad a year from now.

It’s all part of the two games that every professional and college football player must play. There is the one on the field and the one called career management. This week shows that one can be just as unpredictable and beyond control as what happens between the white lines.

2023-12-07 16:42:43
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