British DE Efe Obada’s wild NFL journey continues with Thursday Night Football sack

Under the national spotlight of Thursday Night Football, Carolina Panthers DE Efe Obada fought through the double team to free up his teammate, waited for Matt Ryan to evade the pressure and then picked himself off the ground to take down the former MVP himself. It was a big sack in big game but it was even bigger for the player that made it. In a year full of challenges, the quarterback takedown was just the third of Obada’s career and his first since December of 2018. It was a reward a long time coming.

Efe Obada’s winding NFL journey has been well documented. Born in Nigeria, he was trafficked to London from the Netherlands along with his sister at the age of ten. There, the pair were abandoned to the streets and Obada grew up in a string of 10 different foster homes. At 22, he discovered American football and joined the London Warriors. It took only five games for him to catch the NFL’s eye, boosted by praise from then Warriors defensive coordinator Aden Durde, a star in NFL Europe who now coaches outside linebackers with the Atlanta Falcons. When the Dallas Cowboys traveled to London to play the Jaguars in 2014, Obada was given a tryout and eventually signed to a contract, becoming the first international player to go directly from a European league to the NFL.

After spending parts of the 2015 season on the Cowboys practice squad, Obada was signed and released by Kansas City in the offseason and failed to make the Falcons out of training camp. It wasn’t until 2017 that Obada really caught a break, landing with the Carolina Panthers as an inaugural member of the NFL’s International Pathway Program. After spending all of 2017 on the practice squad, Obada became the first Pathway player to make an NFL active roster in 2018 and recorded a sack in his first ever NFL game. Since then, the 6’6 265-pound defensive end has played in 34 games, making 40 tackles and three sacks as a key rotational pass rusher for Carolina.

The 2020 season might turn out to be Obada’s breakout campaign. Through eight games, his 12 total quarterback pressures are tied for second most on the Panthers and are just two short of a career high. First year head coach Matt Rhule is clearly a fan and spoke glowingly about the Brit earlier this year.

“He’s a really good player,” Rhule said. “We’re trying to carve out and find a great role for him where he can make an impact on the game. He’s the kind of guy that helps you have a good defense.”

Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Accomplishing that success has not been easy for Obada and in many ways this season has posed the largest challenges yet to his unlikely NFL career. Despite signing a new contract this off-season, Obada was among the Panther’s final roster cuts following training camp. He was re-signed by the team just a day later, but Obada has had to perform knowing that he very much exists on the roster bubble.

There were also massive personal challenges. Still a resident of London in the offseason, Obada had to make the tough decision to return to the US early in the midst of a raging pandemic in order to continue his NFL dream and avoid impending travel bans. That meant leaving his wife, at high risk for COVID-19 due to a systemic autoimmune disorder, behind in England.

“It was tough,” Obada said at the time. “Honestly, tough. … Not a lot of people have the option to say, ‘I’m going to opt out or not be a part of something.’ They have to go to work. There are a lot of people out there on the front line doing amazing things. I’m just happy I have a job.”

The two were only able to see each other once since March, a quick trip home for Obada that the Panthers and NFL helped arranged. It came with mandatory quarantines of 14 days on both ends and ultimately cost him 28 days of his normal training regime ahead of camp. There were plans for the two to be reunited in the US in time for the regular season but as of now there has been no update on their situation.

Being away from a loved one for as long as Obada has is a hefty price but his performance on the field has made it worthwhile. When the freakish Brit drug Matt Ryan to the turf last week, it was the payoff for not only years of personal struggle but also a difficult offseason unlike any other. Obada’s role with the Panthers is only set to grow as the season continues and that sack is unlikely to be the last. A career year is within reach and you’d be hard pressed to find a football fan who won’t be rooting for Obada’s unlikely story to end in success.

JC Abbott
J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.
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