Sizzlin' Izzy

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

He's wearing tailor-made pinstripes, some shiny new shoes and what looks like diamond earrings in both ears.

But it's the smile Izzy Idonije is wearing on his mug that stands out.

"I'm not a celebrity," Manitoba's only NFLer was saying yesterday. "It's just me. I'm the same guy I was. No celebrity here."

Tell that to the kids at River Heights School, where suddenly a Chicago Bears T-shirt was the coolest thing around.

It's not every day you get an NFL player visiting your school to help hoist a national championship flag football banner.

But that's what the Brandon-born Idonije was doing yesterday, part of a P.R. visit set up by NFL Canada.

While other members of the Bears may have been spending their bye week in Las Vegas or some southern hot spot, Idonije came north, and a few hundred kids looked like they'd hit the jackpot.

"He signed my football!" one said, showing his prize.

"He's huge!" said another.

And he's a huge example of what can happen if you focus on your dreams.

OK, so most kids don't have Idonije's combination of size and ability and won't get any closer to the NFL than the cheap seats.

Idonije's message to kids, though, is more about fulfilling your own potential, no matter who or where you are.

"I've been in their shoes," he said, looking around at one of the gyms he shot hoops in when he was a kid.

"I went through the same problems they go through, the same struggles. And here I am today -- I've made it. Regardless of your situation, where you're from, you can make it out."

A 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive lineman, Idonije did it against all odds, going from nine-man football in Brandon to the U of M Bisons and eventually to the Bears, the NFL's only unbeaten team and a Super Bowl favourite.

MIRACLES

If he didn't already believe in miracles, he had last Monday's come-from-behind win in Arizona to convince him.

Down 20-0, the Bears won it without scoring an offensive touchdown.

"It was unbelievable," Idonije said. "I mean, the energy level, just the feeling, like, wow, it was unbelieveable to be a part of that."

Everybody in Chicago was already comparing his team to the '85 Bears. Now they're talking like it's destiny.

"But I'm not a real destiny-type guy," Idonije said. "Things happen in our lives, and you gotta work.

"It only gets harder from here. Every team we face from this point on is going to have it out for us."

Injured the first three games of the season, Idonije had his best game Monday, with three tackles and a hard hit on Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart.

It brought back memories of his Bison days, when he was the country's top sack-master. It's a role he's determined to earn in the NFL.

"It's crazy -- time flies," he said. "It's been eight and a half, nine years since I first came to the U of M and first started to learn the game."

Based on how quickly he learned it, don't bet against him.


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