Chicago Bear Israel Idonije is proud to pave the way for CIS football players with NFL dreams.
Most football fans in Canada are familiar with Idonije’s story.
The defensive end was born in Lagos Nigeria but raised in Brandon, Manitoba. The 6’6, 275-pound veteran didn’t play a down of football until his senior year of high school, and didn’t start at the University of Manitoba until his senior season.
That year he burst onto the scene with 9 sacks and 31 tackles for the CIS Bisons en route to capturing the 2002 Canada West J.P. Metras Trophy for outstanding lineman in Canadian University Football.
Idonije then signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 2003. Since 2004 he has been a regular contributor to the Chicago Bears defensive line.
After Idonije stuck wtih the Bears, an increased number of CIS players began popping up in NFL camps. Concordia’s Cory Greenwood (Kansas City Chiefs), Western’s Vaughn Martin (San Diego Chargers), Regina’s Jon Ryan (Seattle Seahawks) are all regular contributors to their NFL teams. Sherbrooke’s Sam Giguere (Colts), Waterloo’s Joel Reinders (Browns) and York’s Ricky Foley (Ravens) were also given NFL opportunities directly out of the CIS.
Idonije recently spoke with The Toronto Observer’s John Spurr about his unlikely path to the NFL.
“One of the biggest hindrances for Canadian kids is that they don’t even consider that they can make it to the NFL,” Idonije told Spurr. “When I played at the University of Manitoba there were some guys on my team that definitely could’ve played in the NFL.”
“When I attended the East-West Shrine game there was a noticeable difference in the calibre of players there, but also my technique was considered raw by the coaches there,” Idonije told Spurr. “It was my first time transitioning from three down football to four down football, so there was definitely a learning curve.”
“Jerry Angelo, the general manager of the Chicago Bears at the time, was at the East-West Shrine game and he saw potential in me,” Idonije told Spurr. “When I was cut from the [Cleveland] Browns practice roster Angelo decided to give me a shot with the Bears.”
“Making the Bears roster felt great and it was a great accomplishment but I wanted more and I was focused on improving and doing whatever I could to help the team.”