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This article was published 15/6/2013 (2440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sorry, Blue Bomber fans, Israel Idonije isn't thinking about jumping ship from the NFL.
The Brandon-raised free agent defensive lineman was in town over the weekend to run a camp for underprivileged kids at the University of Manitoba on Saturday.
'I had dreams and goals just as they do. The reason I've made it is by being able to make the right decisions and stay focused'— NFL free agent Israel Idonije's message to young people
But before he put the kids through their paces, his former college coach, Brian Dobie, gave him a tour of Investors Group Field, the new home of the Bombers and the U of M Bisons, for whom he played for five seasons.
When asked if the just-opened facility would be a nice place to play, the first Manitoban to ever make the NFL said with a laugh, "To play golf? To play what?"
The 32-year-old free agent, who estimates he has another year or two left until he retires, has received a contract offer from the Chicago Bears, where he has played for the last 10 years.
"We're going to wait. Training camp doesn't start until end of July. Hopefully in the next three to four weeks we'll settle on a contract. Either we'll be in Chicago or somewhere else but we'll be playing football," he said.
Idonije doesn't have to look very far for inspirational examples when he's running his camps. Many would consider his own story pure fantasy. Born in Nigeria, his family moved to Brandon when he was four years old. He didn't even start playing football until he was 17 and even then only because he was told it would get him in better shape for basketball, his first love.
From there, he attended a provincial team camp, which was overseen by Dobie, and he was recruited to play at the U of M.
And whenever he was told he wouldn't make his goal, his support system of family and friends told him otherwise.
"My message to (the kids) is simple. I'm no different than any of them. Once upon a time, I sat in the same desk in the same gym. I had dreams and goals just as they do. The reason I've made it is by being able to make the right decisions and stay focused," he said.
"You need to know who you are, what you stand for and what you're about. Every single kid has a gift, an ability and you have value to your community. (We say) 'What is your plan for your life? Let's put together some short-term and long-term goals that will allow you to achieve that dream.' "
Idonije said he considered the CFL a "soft" goal. After being invited to play in the coveted East-West Shrine game south of the border near the end of his college career, he bulked up so he could play "in the land of giants." At 295 pounds, he was the biggest defensive lineman at the game, which was full of All-Americans and first-round NFL draft picks.
"After the first practice, I thought, 'I could play in this league. I could do what these guys are doing.' For me, the perception has to change in Canada. As soon as you hold your players to a higher standard, they reach that standard. There were probably four or five guys that I played with from the Bisons who, without question, could have played in the NFL. Some of the guys I've talked to, their aspirations were set on the CFL and the NFL seemed to be something out of this world," he said.
The Israel Idonije Foundation put on a similar camp last week in Chicago, where it also runs an after-school program. It also recently adopted a village of 1,700 people in Ghana, where it built a medical clinic.