Idonije says thanks

Israel Idonije. (SUN/John Woods)

Israel Idonije. (SUN/John Woods)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Her son was a teenage mountain, well on his way to becoming twice her size. But Choice Idonije wasn't taking no for an answer.

Izzy was going to try out for the provincial football team, whether he liked it or not.

It turns out mother knew best.

Nearly a decade later, Israel Idonije, bona fide NFLer, found a really neat way to say thanks.

"He just showed up in Brandon, and said, 'Let's go to the bank,' " Choice was saying the other day. "It was a total surprise."

Next thing she knows, her 25-year-old son is paying off the family mortgage. And while her husband and everybody at the bank is overjoyed, she finds herself in tears.

"It was so emotional for me," Choice said. "The rest of the family is saying, 'What's the matter?' I said, 'It's fine -- they're tears of joy.' It was a really great feeling."

Idonije always said if he ever made it big in football, he wanted to take care of his family back in Brandon.

Safe to say the four-year, $9 million contract he signed with the Chicago Bears six weeks ago qualifies as making it big. Not to mention the $1.6 million signing bonus that went with it.

So in addition to getting his parents out of debt, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end replaced their old vehicles: mom got a new Chevy Malibu, dad a mini-van.

Where they used to rent a car to go to Minneapolis to watch their son play, now they can drive their own without worrying about it breaking down.

Idonije also bought cars for his older sister, Praise, and younger brother, Emmanuel.

This isn't a case of a suddenly-rich guy throwing his money around without thinking, though.

Because another younger brother, Rhema, will have to prove he's on the right career path before he sees a new set of wheels.

"Mine was more incentive," Rhema explains. "He told me I gotta get back in school."

So the university career Rhema aborted this past year will be back on track next fall. Or else.

Sounds perfectly fair, although Rhema admits his nose was just a bit out of joint at first, seeing all those new cars in the family and not getting one of his own.

Izzy, though, seems to realize that having something handed to you probably isn't in anyone's best interest.

He certainly had to work for what he's accomplished.

The son of a preacher, he spent three years trying to crack the lineup of the University of Manitoba Bisons. The fact he'd never played 12-man football before didn't help.

By his fifth year, though, he'd become the best lineman in the Canadian university system -- so good, the NFL's Cleveland Browns gave him a shot in 2003.

Three seasons later, he appears to be on the verge of becoming a starter with the Bears, one of the NFL's best defences.

It's a rags-to-riches story, literally: Idonije's first year of football was in his Grade 12 year, with a nine-man Brandon team that didn't even have matching jerseys.

His coach, Kevin Grindey, saw something in him, and recommended he try out for the provincial team.

But Idonije, more interested in basketball than football, wanted no part of it.

His mom must have seen something, too, because she put her foot down, packing his bags and sending him to Winnipeg for the camp.

"It's all his hard work," Choice said, not willing to take the credit. "He was just willing to try it."

And now he's more than willing to share the spoils.

Oh, Idonije is doing a few things for himself, too. He bought a house in Winnipeg, and was shopping for one in Chicago this past week.

But he says the big contract hasn't changed his life, or his outlook.

"Everything's still the same," he said. "All that did was provide me with a little bit of security. And I was able to help my family out. Now it's back to work."


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