Israel Idonije is launching his comic book in April.
There’s no such thing as an off-season for Israel Idonije.
Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije pressures Arizona Cardinals quarterback Brian Hoyer in NFL action Dec. 23. (FILE PHOTO)
As soon as the Vincent Massey High School graduate is finished chasing down National Football League quarterbacks each winter, Idonije immerses himself in his charitable and business endeavours as well as preparations for the following season.
Just take a look at the 32-year-old Idonije’s schedule for March as an example: So far he’s been busy promoting next month’s launch of the comic book he conceived, The Protectors, under the banner of his own company, Athleta Comics. Later this month he’ll head overseas to Ghana to help provide medical care and community development through a charity he founded, the Israel Idonije Foundation. And just in case he wasn’t busy enough, the 10-year Chicago Bears veteran hits the free agent market on Tuesday.
"It’s a lot of fun and it doesn’t feel like work," Idonije, born in Nigeria and raised in Brandon, said of his hectic schedule.
"I think the major positive is the day I retire I’m already doing all the things that I’ll be doing post-career. … The day that I hang up my cleats, I’m ready to focus on the entertainment company, I’m ready to focus on the work that we’ll be doing in Winnipeg with our all-star football camps, the stuff that we’ll be doing in Chicago here with the Salvation Army, and just building business partnerships that allow us to push change into the community and work with the kids."
Idonije’s not ready to hang up the cleats just yet. Starting 11 of Chicago’s 16 games on the defensive line, he had one of the best seasons of his career in 2012, registering 7.5 sacks — one-half sack short of his personal best — and earning a spot on USA Today’s All-Joe team for unsung players. The versatile Idonije, who has played both defensive tackle and end during his career, loves Chicago and the fans love him, but the Bears have a new head coach in former Montreal Alouettes boss Marc Trestman after a disappointing 8-8 season, leaving his future wide open, at least for the next few days.
"I’ve been here 10 seasons," said Idonije, who is coming off a one-year, $2.5-million contract. "My plan is to play another two or three years. There’s nothing more that I’d love for those next two, three years to be in Chicago. I mean to play 12, 13 years in one city and to retire a Chicago Bear, that would be the most incredible thing. That’s goal number one. But I understand the business of the game and if it’s not a possibility to get another deal that makes sense for them and for us here, then we’ll be playing two, three years somewhere else. That would be what we have to do."
As much as Idonije has going on, it’s The Protectors — a story about athlete superheroes — that really seems to wind him up. He enlisted comic book veterans like writer Ron Marz and artist Bart Sears to help with the project and the website for Athleta Comics went live this week, with a prequel to the story being rolled out over a 20-day span. The graphic novel will officially launch April 26-28 at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.
"My focus was just to tell a great story," said Idonije, who came up with the concept in 2007. "Ultimately it’s about these great characters, they have this gift, but their true power was meant for more than tackling or hitting a baseball or shooting a puck. They were destined for something greater."
EXTRA POINTS: Idonije’s foundation has started a new after-school program called IZZYzKIDz for students in Chicago and is looking at expanding it to Winnipeg where the former University of Manitoba Bison keeps a home and where much of his family now lives … The foundation recently got a major boost for its Canadian operations with a $25,000 donation from CN.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 9, 2013