Idonije slims down, waits for first start

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

No wonder we haven't seen Israel Idonije during the first three weeks of the NFL season -- Manitoba's only NFLer has lost so much weight, he's nearly invisible.

OK, we're exaggerating.

But the former U of M Bison, a 6-foot-6 product of Brandon, has dropped some 30 pounds since last season, when he dressed for 15 games as a rookie defensive lineman with the Chicago Bears.

That makes him somewhat of an anomaly in the NFL, where it seems bigger is always better.

SVELTE LOOK

Back home for the weekend as the Bears enjoy a bye-week, Idonije says his new svelte look is simply a product of what the team asked him to do going into his second year.

"Our defence is predicated on speed and getting up the field and just running sideline to sideline," Idonije told The Sun yesterday. "So everybody on the line got lighter. My assigned weight was to get down to 275 and get 11% body fat. It was a lot of work and a lot of dedication to change my eating habits. But it paid off."

Literally.

Idonije cracked the Bears 53-man roster, again, so he's picking up a handsome cheque every week. If he stays on the roster all season, he'll earn well over $200,000 US.

Now if he could only get into a game.

Although he typically shows up for work at 7 a.m. and doesn't punch out until 4:30 p.m. -- time split between the weight room, practice field and film sessions -- Idonije didn't dress for the team's first three games of the regular season.

The Bears, 1-2, are unusually deep on the D-line, with eight active linemen, seven of whom have been dressing.

So each week, Idonije, primarily an end, studies the offensive lineman he might go up against. On Sunday, he shows up for games, ready to play.

"It's always a game-time decision, so I might, I might not," he said. "It all depends on how other guys feel. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be there, and come game day I find out if that's the case or not."

Sounds like it'd be frustrating.

I can only imagine researching and writing a column every day, only to be told the paper won't be using it.

But Idonije didn't turn himself from a gangly teenager who played nine-man football in Brandon into a Canadian university star, then an NFLer, by being impatient.

"I'm ready to go when they call my number," he said. "It's a long season and it's a physical sport, so eventually I'm going to get the call.

"It's not a step back. This game is based on opportunity. Last year I got my opportunity early, and tried to make the best of it. Three games in, I haven't had it yet."

The Bears obviously haven't had it with Idonije, who had 21 tackles and one sack as a rookie.

HUGE UPSIDE

Considering his age (he turns 25 next month) and limited experience compared to his teammates, he has what they call huge upside.

"We're deep at the position," head coach Lovie Smith told The Chicago Tribune recently. "We've dressed seven defensive linemen through the first couple of games. We still like Israel Idonije there."

And Idonije still likes life in the NFL, even in the background.

OK, so training camp was hell. But he enjoys the daily grind of the season.

"I get to lift weights and run around and hit," Idonije said. "It's a lot of fun. Especially on Sundays. Sunday is the pinnacle. The fans, the environment, the atmosphere, it's lovely."

Chances are, one of these Sunday's it's going to get even bigger.

And a smaller Idonije knows exactly what he'll have to do.

"Just get better," he said.


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