Izzy always has time for kids

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Izzy had a wristband to give away, and it wasn’t just any wristband.

This is the one he was wearing when he sacked New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning last Sunday, the defensive end’s first sack of the NFL season.

Addressing a classroom full of “Izzy’z kidz” at Sister McNamara School, Tuesday, Israel Idonije began talking about his big play when he was tackled for a loss by a voice from the back of the room.

“You lost,” the kid pointed out.

Yeah, Idonije’s Bears lost — by an ugly count of 17-3, actually — but the big man’s latest trip to Winnipeg was another winner.

Taking his one day off this week to fly here and launch this year’s First Down program, designed to keep inner city kids in school, Idonije was back on a plane to Chicago by the end of the day.

After all, today it’s another practice, Sunday another game, in the life of a soon-to-be, 30-year-old NFL veteran.

“It’s been a great ride,” Idonije told the Sun. “Who would have thought a kid coming from where I’ve come from could be in the NFL eight years? It all starts with a great group of people around me. I’ve been extremely blessed.”

By now you’ve heard Idonije’s story, how the son of street ministers in Brandon has parlayed his fame into his own charitable foundation, doing what he can to change the world one child at a time, here, in Chicago and in Africa, where he was born.

As for his day job, the former U of M Bison has come a long way, too, finally fulfilling a years-long goal of starting at defensive end the last three weeks.

How long it lasts, who knows — by the time he was on the flight back to Chicago, the Bears had signed eight-year veteran Charles Grant to compete for that spot.

But for now, it’s his.

“When you get an opportunity like that, you’ve got to capitalize and make the best of it,” Idonije said. “Every opportunity I’ve had I’ve been able to capitalize and move up to the next level.”

His first sack of the season didn’t hurt.

“To get that first one was good. Disappointing (thing) was I had a couple of other chances to make some more plays and maybe get to Eli a couple more times. We’ll take the one for now.”

At 3-1, the Bears lead their division. But it hasn’t exactly been pretty.

The Chicago offence bottomed out against the Giants, collecting just six first downs and 110 total yards (and you thought the Bomber offence was stagnant), while giving up a whopping nine first-half sacks.

“This offence has the potential to be great,” Idonije said. “They’ll be there. Mark my words.”

Until then, Idonije and the defence will have to hold the fort. Keeping in mind this team started 3-1 last season, too — then missed the playoffs.

“When you’re winning, there’s no better feeling,” Idonije said. “The whole city is on Cloud 9. That’s something we want to get back to, that championship-style football.”

While it’s been a few years since the Bears went to the Super Bowl, Idonije wins consistently, off the field.

Although he did have some trouble giving that wristband away.

“For this wristband ... what was the name of the quarterback I sacked?” Idonije asked the class.

“Uh, Bob?” tried one kid.

“John?” guessed another.

That’s OK.

They know Izzy, and not because of what he does on the field, Sundays.

“I’m fortunate to really be grounded and understand that football is just a small part of my journey,” Idonije said. “This is eight years. If you can get to 10 years in this league, that’s incredible. But I can’t play ball forever. After I’m done, who am I?

“The same person.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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