Day-care kids get special treat from NFL player

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

So, it's lunch time, a few weeks back, at the Ryerson School Age Centre, a day care in Ft. Garry, and dozens of kids are getting ready for what they've only been told is a surprise.

"The stretch-SUV showed up, and the fellow in the tux gets out," Jody Onagi, who runs the centre, recalled. "And then Izzy shows up in his truck."

The next thing they know, the kids are off to McDonalds in the back of the limo, compliments of former Ryerson staff member, Izzy Idonije. A part-time day-care worker in his days with the U of M Bisons, Idonije still pays regular visits to the place now that he's in the NFL.

It's all low-key: no cameras, no reporters -- just 6-foot-6 Izzy and a few dozen of his closest friends, sharing Happy Meals, hugs and high fives.

"He's the most humble, gracious person," Onagi said. "He's just a good person at heart, which is really nice to see as a mentor for kids. It's so refreshing to have that, from somebody in his position."

Idonije, 25, has worked with kids since he volunteered with the YMCA in his hometown of Brandon as a teenager.

This year, he's agreed to be the NFL's Canadian ambassador for 2006, representing the league and promoting the game north of the border. The only Manitoban playing in the NFL, Idonije's first duty is an appearance at the first-ever Canadian Football Forum, tomorrow through Wednesday, in Toronto.

A joint venture between the CFL and NFL, the forum features guest speakers like former NFL MVP Terrell Davis, CFL commissioner Tom Wright and former college and CFL coach, Jim Daley, fired last year by the Blue Bombers.

Idonije will relate his own success story as part of a panel discussion, Tuesday.

"Tell them a bit about myself and how I was able to reach the position I'm in today," he said. "And just how important it is, some of the programs they have in place to help young Canadian kids play football."

NFL Canada spokesman Jay Sweeney says Idonije is the perfect example, albeit a rare one, of what football programs can do for kids.

"He's involved in this event because of the story he can tell," Sweeney said. "It's unbelievable. It's not the typical story, that's for sure."

Plans are in the works for Idonije to help organize a football clinic in his home province, too.

"To be able to do it in Brandon would be great," Idonije said. "That's where I first started playing football, and to do my first camp in Brandon would be awesome. We'll see what happens."


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