From homeless in London to playing in the NFL
Efe Obada’s journey to professional American football stardom was anything but conventional
The journey to the top of professional sport is often one of perspiration and dedication.
Many sports stars tell of the rejections they faced along the way, but few have faced as many challenges as Efe Obada.
The 25-year-old, a defensive end in the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad in the NFL, has told how his journey to becoming a professional American football player was anything but conventional.
Born in Nigeria, at the age of eight Obada went to live with his mother in Holland, before being taken to London - where his life took a turn for the worse.
Speaking to Panthers.com, Obada said: “I lived with my mum for about two years, and then, at the age of ten, I was brought to England by a stranger that was supposed to look after me and my sister. They did not.
“They abandoned us in the streets of East London and left my sister and I to fend for ourselves. A security guard at the building we were supposed to stay in helped us get in contact with my mother, who then made arrangements with a woman she just met to take us in.
“After a while, this arrangement then broke down and my sister and I eventually ended up in foster care. We bounced around from home to home until we were of age to live by ourselves.”
With no official documents and moving in the wrong circles, it took a chance meeting with an old friend for Obada’s fortunes to be turned around.
“As I got older, it became apparent I wasn't like everyone else,” he said. “I couldn’t further my education or gain employment because I was undocumented. I was stuck.
“I began hanging around the wrong people in an effort to fit in and survive. Some poor choices led me to get in trouble, and it was then I decided to turn my life around.
“At one point, I ran into one of my old friends, who invited me to one of his practice sessions at the London Warriors, a professional American football club.
“I instantly fell in love with the aggression of the game, and I saw it as an outlet for some of my anger.”
Obada’s coach at the Warriors, Aden Durde, took the youngster under his wing and managed to get the novice player a try-out with the Dallas Cowboys, where he made the practice squad.
After spells with the Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, Obada was offered the chance to join the NFL International Player Pathways programme and headed to North Carolina to play for the Panthers. He is now part of the club’s practice squad.
“My experience so far has been amazing,” he said. “I’m surrounded by great athletes, coaches and staff. I even got my first NFL sack in the pre-season game against the Houston Texans.
“I am very excited to be in this position, and I intend to use this opportunity to grow and develop as a player and do whatever i need to do to help this team win. I am grateful for the people that have helped me become the man I am today, on and off the field.
“I am indebted to Aden Durde for being the first man to believe in me and for his support through this process. I hope one day to make him proud.”
Obada hopes his story can inspire other disadvantaged youngsters.
He said: “My journey to the NFL hasn’t been a traditional one and my life before football may seem foreign to some, but many young people have been and still are in the same situation I once was in.
“My hope is to be an inspiration to anyone that is going through what I once was. I also hope to become a contender in the NFL and continue to improve as a player and a man.”
The new NFL season starts on Friday, when New England Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs. On Sunday, the Panthers travel to the Levi’s Stadium to face the San Francisco 49ers.