Idonije's big breakout

Israel Idonije (right) is having his best NFL season. (JONATHAN DANIEL/AFP-Getty images files)

Israel Idonije (right) is having his best NFL season. (JONATHAN DANIEL/AFP-Getty images files)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

Of all the times I’ve interviewed Izzy Idonije, he’s never been one to give in to hyperbole.

Words like “awesome” or “unbelievable” rarely escape him, any more than “devastating” or “miserable.”

Whether leading the NFL in blocked kicks, reaching, then losing, a Super Bowl, or being forced to switch from defensive tackle to end, and back again, the big man has always been even-keeled, as consistent as the Manitoba horizon.

Even now, in his newfound position as the Bears starting defensive end and co-leader in quarterback sacks, Idonije begins the conversation with a shrug of those giant shoulders of his.

“Business as usual,” the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Brandon product began, over the phone from Chicago. “Workin’ and trying to get better, week to week, help my team win some football games.”

Sure, business as usual.

Not only is Idonije tied with star teammate Julius Peppers for the Bears sack lead, with seven, he’s helped Chicago to a division-leading 9-3 record as part of the NFL’s No. 3-ranked defence.

In his eighth season in the NFL, Izzy is experiencing a breakout year, at 30.

Get him to chew on that for a while and he finally lets his guard down, just a bit, allowing himself a moment of self-congratulation.

“It feels really great,” Idonije said. “It’s kind of the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. It feels like it’s my rookie year. This is my first year of really doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Everything I do is defensive end focused. I don’t do any special teams.

“This is kind of what I’ve always dreamt the NFL to be like for me. And to have gone through everything I’ve been through, to now be in that position, it’s just an incredible feeling.”

For seven years, Idonije toiled primarily as a second stringer, putting on gobs of weight to back up somebody at tackle one year, shedding it to play behind someone else at end the next.

Oh, he started the odd game and played quite a bit in others, collecting a sack or three each year. He also carved out quite a name for himself as a special teams demon.

As remarkable as that kind of career would be for anyone, let alone a kid from Brandon who didn’t start playing football until late in high school, this isn’t what Idonije’s NFL dream consisted of.

No, Izzy has always dreamed big.

It wasn’t enough to get an NFL tryout, he wanted to make the team.

It wasn’t enough to be on the roster, he wanted to play.

And it wasn’t enough just to play, he wanted to start. At end, where he terrorized opposing teams while with the U of M Bisons.

So has he surprised himself? Not in the least.

“I always felt if I got an honest opportunity that I’d be able to capitalize and be able to make plays and be a player in this league,” Idonije said.

It’s the classic example of preparation meeting opportunity. In this case, the two have hit it off, big-time.

“It’s just been one opportunity after the next. And as the doors open, taking advantages of those opportunities and being able to move to the next level,” Idonije said. “This is kind of like the final stage. Now it’s just about being the best defensive end I can be. Moving from being a good defensive end in this league towards being an elite rusher.”

His goal: to hit double digits in sacks this year, a pass rusher’s version of the 1,000-yard season, which would bring even more attention than Idonije has been getting in this new, high-profile gig.

“But it’s nothing over the top,” he said.

Of course not.

Neither is facing the 10-2 New England Patriots this weekend, with a quarterback, in Tom Brady, we imagine is not easy to get to.

“Not any tougher than anyone else,” Idonije said.

Nope.

Just business as usual for the NFL’s budding star from Brandon.

The book of Israel

Born: Nov. 17, 1980, Lagos, Nigeria

Raised: Brandon, Man.

College: U of Manitoba Bisons

Quote: “This is my best year to date. And it’s mainly because this is the best opportunity I’ve had my entire career.”

Career NFL Stats

Team Starts Tackles Sacks

2010 Chicago Bears 11 37 7.0

2009 Chicago Bears 0 18 2.5

2008 Chicago Bears 3 24 3.5

2007 Chicago Bears 3 28 0.0

2006 Chicago Bears 1 19 0.0

2005 Chicago Bears 1 20 1.0

2004 Chicago Bears 0 14 1.0


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