Efe Obada has had an incredible rise from his bleak arrival to London as a 10-year-old boy to make it all the way to the NFL. Suited up as a professional American football player for his dream debut for the Carolina Panthers last year, his stunning performance proves he’s made the best of the hurdles he’s had to overcome. The defensive end intercepted a pass in the third quarter in his first game for the Panthers, helping them to win against the Cincinnati Bengals 31-21.
Surviving human trafficking
It’s rare for a British athlete to break into the NFL, and Obada’s far from usual path to this powerful sporting institution gives his story a more Hollywood twist.
Born in Nigeria, he was then trafficked from Holland to London with his sister when he was just 10 years old. His mother had arranged for a stranger to look after them both, but instead Obada was abandoned on the streets of Hackney, East London.
Homeless for two nights, the young Obada and his sister were helped by a security guard and given food and shelter in a local tower block. Another arrangement organised by his mother for a friend to care for them fell through and they were then put into foster care.
Although he stayed with his sister, Obada was bounced around 10 different foster homes in Stockwell and Lambeth. Drawn in by the sense of belonging it offered, he was soon immersed in South London gang culture before he left it behind to move to Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
Never played any competitive sport in his life
His path to American football began soon after, discovering the sport at the age of 21 after being introduced to it by a friend who played for the London Warriors. At 6ft 6in and now weighing an imposing 265 pounds, he was told he had the right physique and to give it a try.
He fit training in the gym around his work as a storeman in a warehouse, working out up to five hours a day, seven days a week. “Proper supplementation and a healthy diet are the perfect fuel in becoming a high-performance athlete, but the effort some guys make to become an athlete is even more important than food or supplements” said Jake Bennet at supplementnation.co.uk.
In the space of just four years, Obada has gone from knowing nothing about American Football to having a locker next to veteran Julius Peppers and playing alongside the likes of Luke Kuechly, regarded as the best linebacker currently in the game. Many players have devoted their entire lives to reach that level.
Unbelievable rise to the Panthers’ roster
After playing five games for the London Warriors in 2014, Obada was spotted by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The team picked him up as an undrafted free agent, but he barely understood the rules when he was released by the team.
In March 2016, he was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, and then the Atlanta Falcons in July 2016, yet never ended up playing for either side. His last opportunity came when he was sent to the Panthers in 2017 as part of the NFL’s International Pathway Programme.Obada’s hard work finally paid off in 2017, when he earned a spot on the 53-man roster of the Carolina Panthers. He’s the first player from the programme to get an NFL contract, and has since been retained as the sixth defensive end on a year-long contract extension worth $570,000 (£432,000). This remarkable achievement is why the NFL’s UK headquarters have named the office after him. What’s even better is that the Panthers will play in London this year, so Obada will get to play in what will feel like a real home game.