Through sheer focus and determination, Israel Idonije is one of the few Canadian players in the NFL today. From humble beginnings to a successful career in the NFL, it’s quite evident that Israel has not forgotten where his roots lie.
Idonije was born in Lagos, Nigeria and immigrated with his family to Brandon, Manitoba where he attended Vincent Massey High School in Brandon and, though he had never played football, the coach convinced him to play in his last year of high school in 1997. He went on to play CIS football for the Manitoba Bisons for the University of Manitoba. Israel’s dream came true in 2004 when he was picked up by the Chicago Bears. As a defensive tackle, he remains as the Bears pass-rushing specialist. In May of 2009, Idonije re-signed with the Bears for two years worth $7 million.
After earning the “Key to the City” in Winnipeg along with numerous awards for his community service, Israel’s modesty and positivity make him a success on and off of the field. By heading up his own foundation, The Israel Idonije Foundation, he gives back to the community and is driven to make a change in the lives of others. IFM got the rare opportunity to meet with the Canadian NFL star to get an in-depth look at his hardcore pre-season training routine and a glimpse of the life of the “I-Train”.
IFM: You were born in Nigeria and then moved to Canada at age four. What was the reason for the move to Manitoba?
Israel Idonije: My dad was a minister, so he got his apprenticeship and we moved to Manitoba in 1984 and settled in Brandon in 1987.
IFM: In high school you were a two sport athlete, excelling in football and basketball. In the end, you chose to play football in college, why?
Israel Idonije: I loved basketball that was always my sport. I actually didn’t play football until my last year of high school in 1997. After just one practice I really didn’t take a liking to it so I continued to play basketball, I preferred it. I started to excel in football while continuing to play on the basketball team. All in all I stuck with football at the end of the day. I guess it has worked in my favour.
IFM: You attended the University of Manitoba where you were named Manitoba’s Male Athlete of the Year in your senior season. Did it ever cross your mind to transfer to a college in the U.S. to gain more exposure to NFL Scouts?
Israel Idonije: No not really. During my first year I received a call from North Dakota, but I wanted to continue to play with the University of Manitoba and stay close to home.
IFM: Was it always a dream of yours to play pro and when did you sign a contract with the NFL?
Israel Idonije: No, it really didn’t ever cross my mind. I never thought that I would be capable to get to this level of football. At the age of thirteen, my father made me sit down and write out my goals. First on the list was to play for the basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, and I inspired to be NBA star. That was always was my dream. I find it ironic that now I’m playing football in Chicago out of all cities! Football was definitely something I’d never thought I’d be playing at this point, especially professionally.
IFM: After signing with the Chicago Bears, you played a year in Europe for the Berlin Thunder. How was it living and playing in Germany?
Israel Idonije: In 2003 Cleveland signed me as an un-drafted free agent. I was then picked up by the Chicago Bears in 2004 and was sent to the NFL’s Europe Berlin Thunder. I lived in Germany for about four months and had a great time. It was a great experience to see and to learn about another culture. After the season I came back to the U.S and then made the Bears 53-active man roster and played in 15 games and recorded 21 tackles. I then earned a four year contract from the Chicago bears.
IFM: You were one of two products of Canadian University football players at that time to ever play in the Super Bowl. Was it a surreal experience playing in the Super Bowl XLI in 2007?
Israel Idonije: It was awesome! I was in awe the whole week that I was there. From the time you get in to the city everything is larger than life. During that week I had an appearance on Jay Leno! I never would have imaged that! It was great to be a part of, what a surreal experience.
IFM: How did you get the nickname “I-Train”?
Israel Idonije: When I played basketball, a player cut me off on the court. I pretty much ran him over and dove through him on the basketball court. The guys on the team thought that “I-Train” was appropriate because I had the reputation to run people over. It just carried with me throughout the years right through to my football career.
IFM: You recently went from 306lbs to 265lbs at 7% body fat in 3 months! Was this due to your change in position of defensive tackle from inside to outside?
Israel Idonije: Last year I played defensive tackle on the inside and the transition to play on the outside means that I have to be lean, strong and fast. To drop my weight and body fat I had to really focus on my nutrition and training. My report weight for camp is 265lbs and 10% body fat and I’ve reached my goal. It took a lot of hard work and determination.
IFM: Take us through a day in the life of Izzy pre-season.
Israel Idonije: I train at the House of Pain training facility in Saline, Michigan. I train every morning at 8:30am and do my workout circuit till about 10:30am. In the afternoon I hit the pool and some evenings I do Jishukan-Ryu-Jujitsu. It really helps me with mental preparation. In the 4th quarter of the game you can’t be tired, so my training routine gives me that mental edge that I need in the game.
IFM: Does your training and nutrition change tremendously when the season starts?
Israel Idonije: My diet is always very regimented. I eat six meals a day consuming a lot of lean protein, such as chicken breast, with rice. During the season I have a cheat meal about once a week where some of the teammates will get together and go to someone’s house and we’ll indulge in some junk food.
IFM: So you just signed a two-year extension with the Chicago Bears, how does that feel?
Israel Idonije: It feels good! I love Chicago and I’ve been there for a few years now so I’m quite comfortable in the city. I’m in my seventh season with the Bears so it’s nice to not have to worry about anything until 2011. I can just relax and focus on football.
IFM: You have done a lot of volunteer work through the Israel Idonije Foundation, what makes you so driven to help others?
Israel Idonije: It all starts with my mother and father. With my father being a minister they always helped the community. My parents have always taught me to have gratitude and that frame of mind has led me on a positive path. I wanted to give back to the community so I started the foundation. It’s a non-profit organization that extends life changing opportunities to families and individuals in economically disadvantaged communities.
IFM: You went on a tour in Nigeria with a few other NFL players where you helped supply clinics and handed out scholarships to underprivileged kids. Did it change your perspective on life?
Israel Idonije: The program is C.A.R.E. (Caring, Advancing, Restoring and Educating) Africa. The water wells in areas of Africa lack safe water so we went to Nigeria with twelve doctors from Oklahoma. They did HIV testing with results available three hours later. We also awarded twenty scholarships to Nigerian youths living in rural areas. It was truly unbelievable experience to be a part of.
IFM: What are some accomplishments that you are proud of either on or off of the field?
Israel Idonije: I have goals that I still haven’t reached. There are still a few things that I would like to accomplish in my career. As far as my personal life goes, I am very blessed and fortunate to have such an amazing family.
IFM: Do you have any words of advice for other athletes looking to go pro?
Israel Idonije: There is always a window of opportunity in your life so focus and take advantage of every chance you have. Give it everything you’ve got when you get that opportunity and don’t let it pass you by. Focus and determination is the key to success.
IFM: Thanks a lot Izzy! Good luck in the upcoming season!
Israel Idonije: Thank you. It was my pleasure!
Michelle Shaw has cultivated her passion for fitness and nutrition in all aspects of her life, from her education through her work experiences in the Bodybuilding and Fintess Industry. Michelle is proud to be a member of IFM Media Inc.