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Israel Idonije says his involvement with the program is a way to give back. ((Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images))

Manitoba's NFL football star, Israel Idonije, served as principal for a day at a Winnipeg elementary school Wednesday.

The Chicago Bear was the boss in the big chair at Sister MacNamara School on Sargent Avenue. He paid the school a visit to update students in his Izzy's Kids program, which includes an attendance incentive called First Downs.

The program, which targets Grade 6 students by offering prizes to students who maintain high attendance, was launched by Idonije in September.

It is the second year the school has taken part in First Downs, which is directly based on a program of the same name that Idonije founded at a Chicago school in 2007.

Classes receive monthly awards when average attendance is over 95 per cent, and students receive awards when they attend at least 98 per cent of the time.

'I had people in my life who pressed the importance of my education and that's why I've been able to be successful.'—Israel Idonije

"This group, they're extremely bright, you know," he told CBC, adding that he is proud of what they've accomplished since the fall.

"The sixth-graders that we do the program with this year, their attendance has gone up eight per cent. Some of them, who were in the 50 [per cent attendance] are now in the seventies, eighties — as a group they've done an excellent job."

Idonije says he was lucky as a youth to have role models who taught him the importance of education. Now he wants to give back.

"I had people in my life who pressed the importance of my education and that's why I've been able to be successful," he said. "It's been critical in me being where I am today. Some of these kids don't have that."

Idonije, 27, was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and emigrated to Brandon, Man., with his family. He played for the University of Manitoba Bisons and  Europe's Berlin Thunder before joining the Chicago Bears in 2004.