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Former gridiron standout Idonije writes stories encouraging youngsters to be the best they can be





Tackling quarterbacks was fun, but there’s nothing former NFL defensive end Israel Idonije loves better than tackling a good book.

So, he’s writing some.

Idonije, the affable Manitoban who now lives in Chicago after an 11-year professional career with the Chicago Bears, is a children’s book author who has penned and published three books, I Love Me!; I Love Numbers and I Love Football, in the DreamKidz Adventures series that launched last spring.

The series is about to be expanded. Idonije has written four more — with themes of letters, dance, hugs and basketball — which will be released as soon as the illustrations are completed.

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Tackling quarterbacks was fun, but there’s nothing former NFL defensive end Israel Idonije loves better than tackling a good book.

So, he’s writing some.

Idonije, the affable Manitoban who now lives in Chicago after an 11-year professional career with the Chicago Bears, is a children’s book author who has penned and published three books, I Love Me!; I Love Numbers and I Love Football, in the DreamKidz Adventures series that launched last spring.

The series is about to be expanded. Idonije has written four more — with themes of letters, dance, hugs and basketball — which will be released as soon as the illustrations are completed.

"For me, it’s do what you can with what you have," said Idonije, 37, who was in Winnipeg on Saturday for the 12th Annual All-star Football Camp at the Winnipeg Soccer Federation soccer complex on the U of M campus run by his non-profit foundation, iF Charities.

"In everything we create, we want the content to be positive, uplifting, and inspirational to lead the kids, still with that dream, that hopefulness, that bright-eyed enthusiasm for life and we hope to just be part of fostering that all around the world."

Idonije, who grew up in Brandon and played football for the University of Manitoba Bisons, said the books focus on fun and diverse experiences to inspire children, help them realize their full potential and foster in them a love of reading.

"The first one I Love Me! is about self because I think that, above all, is most important for our kids," said Idonije.

"Reading is the gateway to everything. And not just reading; reading comprehension. To be able to read, comprehend and explain what you read to somebody, that’s the ultimate goal of what we’re really trying to build a foundation for. There’s endless research about how kids, the earlier they can read, they do better exponentially as they move forward in their overall education."

Saturday’s camp was free to 150 youngsters ages 8 to 14 from schools and youth groups in underserved communities in Manitoba. The children received 90 minutes of football and fitness instruction from Idonije, about 20 Bisons players and Bisons head coach Brian Dobie. Each child received an iF Charities T-shirt — all were No. 71 with Idonije on the back — and snacks after the camp during an informal autograph session. 

"Izzy’s camp is fun and he’s so nice and generous," said Nico Jessome, 11, a Grade 6 student from Winnipeg’s Faraday School.

Idonije wrote his children’s books as poems with lively, colourful illustrations by Renzo RF that include a diverse group of girls and boys.

"I Love Me, a special kid with lots of gifts for all the world to see. From head to toe, my light will glow, bright and beautifully," Idonije said, quoting the poetic opening lines of I Love Me!

Idonije said he was inspired to write the books from within his own family. He said his parents, Henry and Choice, insisted he and his siblings read an hour every day and limited their TV-watching to encourage it. He wasn’t much of a reader until he was given a used copy of a Green Hornet comic book at his father’s Street Love charity in Brandon when he was a teen.

Idonije has taken the spirit of giving he grew up with and turned it into his life’s work.

He began iF Charities in 2007 (formerly the Israel Idonije Foundation) and has grown it to operate numerous initiatives that encourage social and emotional learning for children in North America and Africa.

Idonije’s first foray into the literary world was in 2007 when he wrote The Protectors, a comic book mini-series aimed at youth readers in which a group of athletes discover they each have special powers and can reach their full potential by helping others and protecting the world from enemies who want enslave it.

He’s building on that theme in his next project launching this fall. Readers and football fans alike can stay tuned for Monsters of the Midway, a comic book series by Idonije and his company Athlitacomics in partnership with the Chicago Bears for the 2018 NFL season.

Select Bears’ players and their weekly opponents have been assigned super powers in Idonije’s project. The stories are in comic book form early in the week and then transfer to the field on game day. Each week’s game unfolds as part of the story.

You can see the Monsters of the Midway trailer here. 

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca


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