Izzy branches out

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Izzy's taking the Giants.

Of course, he was taking the Bears a year ago, too, mainly because he was one of them.

But I doubt Israel Idonije, the NFLer from Brandon, is putting much, if any, money on New York beating New England in Sunday's Super Bowl.

He's way too smart for that.

Now, if you want to talk about land acquisitions, mortgage companies or some other business enterprises his advisers think look good, he's buying.

You see, Idonije's season may have ended when his Bears failed to make the playoffs, but his work didn't.

Listening to the big man over the phone from Chicago, you picture him in a big office with three phones on the go and people scurrying in and out, offering advice for his next investment.

"I've got a lot of different fields I'm getting into: development, oil -- there's a bunch of things," Idonije said. "I'm branching out. You can't do football forever."

It seems the man with the impossible dream five years ago just keeps getting bigger dreams.

At the moment, he's in the process of selling off the last of his rental properties in Chicago and buying real estate in other parts of the U.S. He's started a couple of businesses, is part-owner of a mortgage company and has nine deals currently on the go.

Now 27 and coming off his fourth season with the Bears, a year in which he was named an alternate for the Pro Bowl for his special teams work, the former U of M Bison appears to be putting the four-year, $8.2-million contract he signed in 2006 to work for him -- along with a team of legal and financial advisers.

"As we go along, we learn," Idonije said. "We've had some failures, we've had some successes. It's what life's about. You've got to conquer something, and then you move to the next thing. You're always learning, always picking up new things, developing yourself as a person and as a businessman."

The personal part Idonije seems to have down pat, too.

Through his own charitable foundation, he set up a Chicago school program this year that sees him reward kids for improvement in class. Teachers at Alex Haley Academy say attendance has skyrocketed because of him, and Idonije plans to expand the program to four schools next year.

Taking after his parents, who run a street ministry in Brandon, Idonije also handed out turkeys at Thanksgiving and hampers at Christmas for needy families in his adopted city.

For his efforts, he was recently named one of 12 winners of the JB Award, which CBS-TV's James Brown presents annually to NFL players for service to their communities.

All in a day's work, says Izzy.

"I'm just doing my little bit. If you're someone in a position to make a change in their community, it's your responsibility. If everybody who has that ability does it, our communities ultimately are better places."

In March, Idonije plans a trip to his native Nigeria, where he'll introduce football to local school kids.

Going back to Nigeria has special meaning for Idonije. Chicago may be his business base, and he may have grown up in Brandon, but he calls the African country "home."

"It's a part of my family that I don't get to see that often," he said.

"I love it. That's where I was born. I'm Nigerian. Just to be there and be immersed in my culture, it's a lot of fun."

You get done talking to Idonije and the biggest football game of the year, the one he played in, and lost, a year ago, seems almost like an afterthought.

TAKING THE GIANTS

But he's still taking the Giants.

Once an underdog, always an underdog.

"And I've got some friends on the Giants," he said. "It would be good to see them get a ring. Even though they'll just rub it in my face."


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