It's a little early to book Israel Idonije a flight to the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, but Manitoba's only NFLer is certainly making progress.
The first-year defensive end with the Chicago Bears registered his first quarterback sack as the Bears defeated the San Francisco 49ers Sunday -- just the latest chapter in one of the most amazing sports stories this province has seen in years.
"It was exciting," Idonije said from Chicago yesterday. "Hey, it's my first career sack. And they say the first one's the hardest one to get out of the way. Hopefully, when it rains it pours."
The sack came in the third quarter against 49ers quarterback Ken Dorsey, who was filling in for the injured Tim Rattay. The play drew praise from ESPN TV commentator Joe Theismann, who noted Idonije's speed.
"They left me unblocked," the 23-year-old Brandon product said. "If you're left unblocked, I hope you can make something happen. I ran in and the quarterback, I guess, was supposed to run a naked boot(leg), and I was able to get him and bring him down. I'll take 'em how I can get 'em."
Idonije, a backup, also had a tackle and an assist, giving him four tackles in five games.
"When I get an opportunity, I'm just trying to make the best of it," he said. "I'm just happy that, above all, we won. We'd been struggling to get those wins. So that's still the highlight of the day, for me."
Maybe, but the fact Idonije is even playing in the NFL is proof than nearly anything is possible.
With just six years of competitive football under his belt -- he didn't start playing until Grade 12 -- the former U of M Bisons star stole a roster spot in his second NFL training camp, beating out players from major, U.S. colleges.
It helped that the Bears, now 2-5, underwent a youth movement under new coach Lovie Smith this season. Idonije is one of several rookie Bears making his mark.
"We have some great young football players making some great contributions," first-year quarterback Craig Krenzel told Chicago reporters. "I think they're all trying to prove why they're here."
Idonije is there because he's a 6-foot-7, 295-pound raw talent who works his tail off to learn and get better.
He admits, though, that he's getting a little tired, after going straight from NFL Europe to training camp, then the regular season.
"This is, I guess, Week 27 or 28 for me," Idonije said. "I definitely feel a little fatigue. Physically, I'm not what I was. Right now the big thing is for me to stay mentally sharp."