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Cutdown day in the NFL includes some amazing stories of players who made a 53-man roster against all odds. Even against that backdrop, it’s possible nobody on an NFL roster today was a longer shot to make it than Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada.
Obada made the Panthers, at least for now. Everyone near the bottom of an NFL team’s roster can’t get comfortable, as teams search through waivers and make more additions. But for Obada to get to this point is amazing.
At age 22 the Nigerian-born Obada had never played football, and had spent time in his childhood abandoned and homeless after being trafficked to the United Kingdom. At 26, he’s a member of the Panthers.
Try finding a more improbable story among the 32 teams’ final rosters.
A rough childhood
Obada’s path to the NFL is unlike any other.
Obada’s journey was tough. Born in Nigeria, Obada was trafficked to the UK via the Netherlands by one of his mother’s friends in 2002, according to NFL UK. Once in the UK, he and his 11-year-old sister were abandoned. Obada was 10 years old.
“This lady just left us out on the streets,” Obada told NFL UK. “It was scary and we were lonely.”
According to NFL UK Obada went to a building, told a security guard what happened, and the guard let Obada and his sister sleep in the foyer. The security guard helped Obada get in touch with his mother in Amsterdam and she arranged for the kids to stay with a family in Stockwell. But their mother never joined them.
“We were then hoping that my mum would come to London and take control but she never did,” Obada told NFL UK. “We lived with this lady for about five years. The house was chaotic – the lady had five other children living there and then me and my sister.
“It was a stressful environment and her children took precedence over us and we were like domestic slaves. We spent a lot of our time cleaning – it was not a good situation to be in.”
At 15, Obada and his sister entered social services and were “home-hopping and living with strangers,” he told NFL UK.
Efe Obada started playing football at age 22
Obada started playing with the London Warriors, a British American Football Association National Leagues team, when he was 22. He did that part-time, working as a security guard most mornings. On the recommendation of one of his coaches in the BAFA National Leagues, the Dallas Cowboys signed him, according to the Sporting News.
He spent time with the Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons but never caught on. Then he caught a break. In 2017 the NFL started the International Player Pathway program, allowing the four teams in the NFC South an extra practice squad spot for a player from Europe. The Panthers used that spot on Obada.
After spending 2017 as an extra man on the practice squad, Obada came back to the Panthers in 2018 looking to win a roster spot.
Obada makes most of his opportunity
It’s rare for any player to make it to the NFL without playing in college. It seems impossible to make it to the NFL with Obada’s path.
“He had to become a different type of student of the game because of the lack of background in football,” defensive coordinator Eric Washington told Panthers.com. “He’s been a sponge. He’s always asking for extra stuff, whether in the classroom or out here at practice.”
Obada had a sack in the Panthers’ second preseason game, and showed the coaches enough to make the team. In addition to every other obstacle he overcame, Obada is the first player from the International Player Pathway program to make it on a 53-man roster.
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