You have probably never heard of 26-year-old Efe Obada; an undrafted rookie on a small-market team who barely made the roster is not a household name. Before the Carolina Panthers’ win on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Obada’s first game as a professional, there was no reason to know his name. But, once you hear his inspiring story, I promise you will not forget him.
Obada’s introduced himself to the league during his NFL debut in convincing fashion. The defensive end flashed his otherworldly athleticism and made the most out of his limited opportunities by recording a sack and an interception against the Bengals.
It was an unexpected performance from a player who had spent the first three years of his football career bouncing around practice squads of various teams. He was viewed in a seemingly perpetual state as an afterthought in the eyes of coaches. Obada was finally given his chance on September 23. He played with unmatched passion and became a clear emotional leader on the Panthers defense, an impressive feat for a rookie who plays on a defensive unit that boasts some of the NFL’s best.
Obada’s game performance stood out to Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who awarded Obada with the game ball after the win. Being awarded the game ball is huge for Obada, validating his commitment to football after enduring the unimaginable.
Unlike almost every other player in the NFL, Efe Obada never played college football. His first experience with the game came in London, when he was 22 and one of his friends invited him to play American football on a local semi-pro team.
A coach on the team had worked as an intern for the Dallas Cowboys, and upon realizing Obada’s unlimited athletic potential, he managed to get the 6’6, 245 pounder a workout in Dallas. But, before Obada would parlay the tryout into his first NFL contract with the Cowboys practice squad, before he made his first NFL roster three years later, and before he played his first game and recorded his first sack, Efe Obada was a survivor of human trafficking.
Born in Nigeria, Obada moved with his mother and sister to Holland when he was eight years old. When he was 10 years old, Obada and his sister were taken from their mother and brought to London by a woman, whom they did not know, who promised to take care of them. Not much is known about Obada’s experience as a survivor of trafficking, as he does not like to talk about his past, but he spoke briefly on it.
“[The stranger] abandoned us in the streets of East London and left my sister and I to fend for ourselves,” said Obada via the Carolina Panthers’ official website on August 29, 2017.
After a stint of homelessness at just 10 years old, Obada and his sister eventually found their way into foster care, where the two bounced around houses until they were able to live on their own.
They were alone and unable to find work because they were undocumented. By his own admission, this frustration in Obada’s life led him to make questionable decisions and get into trouble.
According to Obada, in an effort to turn his life around, he found football.
“[Transitioning into football was] the hardest, but most fulfilling thing I had ever done in my life,” Obada said.
The Panthers are lucky he made the commitment. He provided a spark to the defense that had been sorely lacking in the team’s week two loss to the Atlanta Falcons, in which they gave up 31 points and failed to record a sack.
Although he has been a practice squad player for the majority of his career and not on a team for the entirety of the 2016 season, Obada has very real potential to become a star at defensive end.
According to Sports Illustrated, Sunday’s contest was just the 20th formal game of football that Obada had ever played, and he still looked like one of the best players on the field.
The game ball that Obada earned because of his inspiring performance is the first step in a promising career. From humble beginnings to a budding NFL star, Efe Obada’s story is far from over.
Contact Kingston Perry at [email protected]