Five years ago, Nigerian-born Efe Obada had not even played American football, He was taken on by the Dallas Cowboys, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Atlanta Falcons before his breakthrough with the Carolina Panthers.
A place where he found a second home and a family, something he didn’t have after he was abandoned and left homeless at age 10. But, despite Obada’s childhood struggles his journey to the NFL has been remarkable.
Born in Nigeria, Obada moved to the Netherlands to live with his mother when he was eight years old. Two years later, he and his sister were taken to London. Though he is reluctant to share full details of the traumatic experience, at the age of 10, he was abandoned with his sister on the streets of Hackney, East London.
They spent two nights sleeping rough before a security guard gave them shelter in the tower block he was working in. With his help, the children were eventually looked after, but when that arrangement broke down, Obada spent the remainder of his childhood in more than 10 different foster homes.
Usually the established route to America football is through the US collegiate system in which just 1.6% of the player pool actually make it to the big time, but Obada who spent the majority of his childhood in South London was lucky.
His introduction came after a chance meeting with an old friend. Obada was encouraged to attend a training session with British American football team London Warriors. At 6ft 6in he had the stature to succeed. After just five games with the Warriors, Obada was on his way to the United States.
In April 2015 the Cowboys signed him – but he was released without ever playing a game. He also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons before once again being let go.
“In the early days there was a lot of noes, but I was used to that,” he says. “When I was growing up trying to apply for jobs in London and I didn’t have papers, I would go through the interview process but then it came to: ‘Where’s your passport?’ I got my noes from there.
“But an opportunity like being in the NFL is something that you are going to have to hold on to as long as you can, because I know that once that opportunity is gone I am back in the warehouse doing 9-5. As long as there is a chance and there are people around me that can help me through the door and give me the chance to progress and to grow, I am going to keep coming back – no matter how many noes I get.”
The NFL keen to grow the game internationally, set up a program in 2017 to give international athletes the chance to make it, Obada was part of the first intake and he finally got his first ‘YES’.
The 26-year-old Briton made his stunning NFL debut in September 2018. Obada played defensive end and tight end in his 10 matches for the Panthers last term, In January he signed a new one-year extension to his contract worth £432,000 – reward for a breakthrough season with the Panthers.
Such fame and fortune would have been unthinkable for the 10-year-old who arrived in London, slept on the reception room floor of a building but now has a room in his name, feeling grateful Obada said “you have to be determined. You have to face whatever it’s going to throw at you. And that is really what I’m doing. I’m just making the most of an amazing opportunity that not a lot of people in this world have.”