Canadian success story

Canadian Israel Idonije is making an impact in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. (Winnipeg Sun...

Canadian Israel Idonije is making an impact in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. (Winnipeg Sun File/John Woods)

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Maybe it had something to do with Israel Idonije not having played for a Canadian university power based in Ontario.

Or perhaps it was because he isn't a running back with a father who was a successful CFL star.

Whatever the reason, the beginning of Idonije's NFL journey two years ago certainly wasn't treated with the hype and hope that Jesse Lumsden's was this past summer.

Lumsden got the bum's rush in Seattle when he was cut by the Seahawks while injured. But Idonije, who grew up in Brandon, Man. and didn't start playing football until late in his teens, is well on his way to making it in four-down football.

A reserve defensive lineman and special team terror for the Chicago Bears, the 6-foot-7, 275 pounder has improved to the point that he's expected to stick in the NFL.

The occasional Canadian makes it to the NFL, of course. But few do so directly from the CIS, which is what made Lumsden's shot and Idonije's success so compelling.

"I've come a long way, but I've still got a long way to go," Idonije said in the quiet Bears locker room after his team's 21-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.

"I'm going to focus on the things I need to get better at.

"I have three games left here (this season) and I want to be a factor. I want to make plays. Make things happen out there."

In other words, he doesn't want to be a career backup.

Idonije's NFL career actually got off with a snub not unlike Lumsden. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns in 2003, he was cut in September of that year because he was hobbled with an ankle injury.

But rather than having to return to Canada to play, Idonije got a second chance when the Bears scooped him up soon after the Browns said bye-bye.

"He's a physical specimen and if he continues to learn, he has the potential to be a stud "D" lineman," a scout from an NFC team observing the Steelers-Bears game said on Sunday. "Obviously he was a risk being so raw in terms of skill, but he was well worth taking a shot on. I wish we would have taken that shot."

With the Bears, Idonije has had the chance to get his masters degree in defence from some of the best. Besides playing special teams, the Bears have liberally subbed him in to spell the studs on the defensive line at both end and tackle.

"We've got great coaches and a lot of great people to learn from," Idonije said. "It's a great situation for me."

Idonije's story truly is a remarkable one. The 25-year-old moved to Canada from his native Nigeria at age six. He first played football in 1997 on a nine-man team at Vincent Massey High School in Brandon, where he grew up.

He only started for two years for the Manitoba Bisons but won the J.P. Metras Trophy as Canada's top lineman the second year which got him a spot in the East-West Shrine Game, a U.S. college all-star showcase.

That's where the Browns took notice, more at his hulking physique and athleticism than technique.

Rather than shake his head in disbelief at making the jump from the Bisons to the Bears, Idonije rightfully takes some credit.

"I think I'd be surprised if it was something that was just given for me, but I've worked work for this," Idonije said.

"The good thing is I have a lot of people in my corner helping me out. I'm not there yet, but I know what I need to work on and I know how to get better at those things."

And unlike Lumsden, he appreciates the good fortune of getting another shot to show it.


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