Panthers defender's impressive debut rounds out improbable path to the NFL that started as a human-trafficking victim

Meredith Cash
Ebe Ofada Carolina Panthers

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


  • After overcoming human trafficking and years of homelessness, 26-year-old defensive end Efe Obada made his regular-season NFL debut with the Carolina Panthers Sunday.
  • The Nigeria native is the first player to ever make a 53-man roster from the NFL International Pathways Program.
  • Obada tormented quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense Sunday, notching an interception, a sack, and a sack-fumble that was overturned on review.


When Efe Obada was just ten years old, he and his sister were victims of human trafficking and taken from their home in the Netherlands to London, where they were soon abandoned and left homeless for years.

As a teenager, Obada moved through Britain's child services system and became entangled in a world of gangs and violence. After he watched the bloodshed take three of his friends' lives, the Nigeria native decided it was time to make a change.

"My life could have gone bad or good and I decided I wasn’t going down that road," Obada told SBNation's James Dator. "I lost a lot of friends and I saw people coming and going and I decided that was not the life for me or my sister."

At 22 years old, Obada discovered American football. He played for the London Warriors of the BAFA National League and helped lead the team to a national championship. The Dallas Cowboys recognized the defense end's talent on a 2015 international scouting trip, and Obada has been shifting between NFL teams ever since.

The six-foot-six, 265-pounder landed with the Carolina Panthers this past offseason through the NFL International Pathways Program, which allows teams to pick up an international player to fill an additional practice squad roster spot. Although the program was intended to provide training opportunities to players from abroad, Obada's four tackles and one sack in limited preseason play was enough to make him the first ever NFL International Pathways Program to make a 53-man roster in the league.

Tweet Embed:
//twitter.com/mims/statuses/1035975385912147974?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
“I’m proud to be a Carolina Panther!” - @EfeObadaUKpic.twitter.com/9be4tINwsv

Obada's performance Sunday afternoon served as the perfect ending to his incredible and odds-defying journey to the NFL. 

The 26-year-old defensive end tormented quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense in the Panthers' win, notching an interception and a sack. Obada also forced a sack-fumble, but it was later overturned on review.

Here's a look at Obada's interception:

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You're not taking this play from Efe‼️ pic.twitter.com/8LN4DqdgEd

Obada received the game ball from the team for his stunning debut performance:

Tweet Embed:
//twitter.com/mims/statuses/1044005148534755328?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
I'm grateful, thank you for all the messages you know I'm going to try and respond to you all. Thank you for giving me a home and showing me so much love. I'm just overwhelmed! #KeepPounding 💙💪🏿🙏🏿 pic.twitter.com/q6kPoZrzcW

Despite his newfound success, Obada has tried to divert attention away from himself and remain humble through it all.

"I don’t want this to be about me – I’m not self-centered," Obada told Dator. "I would just like my story to be an inspirational one because there are still people I know who are in that position I was once in and who haven’t got the opportunities that I have. I just want them to know that it is possible."

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