Amazing story: Once homeless, Panthers' Efe Obada wins NFC defensive player of week

Yahoo Sports

When Efe Obada’s life story is turned into a movie, it’s going to be hard to believe.

Obada’s journey to the Carolina Panthers is remarkable. He was born in Nigeria and trafficked to the United Kingdom when he was 10, where he was homeless as a child for a while. He started playing football at age 22, doing that part time for a British American Football Association National Leagues team while working as a security guard. 

And in his NFL debut last Sunday, he won NFC defensive player of the week. Just winning that award in an NFL debut is pretty amazing. The backstory of how Obada got to that point is unbelievable.

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Efe Obada’s NFL debut was memorable

Obada made the Panthers’ 53-man roster, which was a fun story. Then what he did in Week 3 took it to another level.

Obada was inactive the first two games. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end made his NFL debut in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he stood out. Obada had a sack and an interception. He had another sack that was taken off the board after a replay review. Obada made a big impact and was given a game ball in the locker room afterward.

“I’m over the moon,” Obada said, according to the Panthers’ website. “Words can’t describe how I feel right now. I’m still filled with adrenaline.”

Then on Wednesday he was named the best defensive player in the NFC for Week 3. “Storybook” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada won NFC defensive player of the week after a big effort in his first NFL game. (AP)
Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada won NFC defensive player of the week after a big effort in his first NFL game. (AP)

Obada’s story includes a rough childhood

Everyone in the NFL has a story and most of them are pretty special, sometimes inspiring. There’s no story like Obada’s tale, however.

Obada moved to the Netherlands and was trafficked to the UK by one of his mother’s friends in 2002, when he was 10 years old. He and his 11-year-old sister were abandoned there. Their mother never joined them and he and his sister were homeless for a short time. They stayed with a family in Stockwell for five years, where they “were like domestic slaves,” Obada told NFL UK. At 15 years old, Obada and his sister entered social services and were “home-hopping and living with strangers,” he told NFL UK.

In his early 20s, Obada picked up American football.

Obada started playing football at age 22

If football was the only part of Obada’s story, it would still be remarkable. Look around every NFL roster, and you won’t find many people who took up the sport at age 22.

On the recommendation of one of his coaches in the BAFA National Leagues, the Dallas Cowboys signed Obada. He spent time on the Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons but didn’t make the roster for any of those teams. He caught a break when the NFL started the International Player Pathway program in 2017, allowing the NFC South teams an extra practice squad player from Europe. The Panthers signed Obada for that practice-squad spot.

In 2018, Obada beat the odds and made the 53-man roster. He’s the first player off the International Player Pathway program to make a 53-man roster. Then he had a huge impact in his first NFL game.

Obada: ‘That hunger is what keeps me going’ reported Obada doesn’t like speaking about his childhood, though he referenced it after his big game on Sunday.

“I don’t want to go into it, but being at such a disadvantage in life and then being put in a position like this, you value it way more than some people do,” he said. “That hunger is what keeps me going.”

Everyone on an NFL roster worked hard to make a team, and many players overcame tremendous odds to make it. But Obada’s story is like something created in a movie writer’s imagination.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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