On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers will play the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Kick off is set for 9:30 a.m. ET.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for one Panther player: Efe Obada, who was first introduced to the sport that would change his life in the United Kingdom.
Born in Nigeria, Obada was trafficked from the Netherlands to the U.K. when he was 10 and then abandoned on the streets of London, ESPN reports. He ended up in foster care, bouncing from home to home.
Obada didn't pick up a football until his early 20s, let alone play college ball like most NFL draft prospects. When he was 22 and working as a security guard for Grace Foods, a friend invited him to join a practice with the British American football team, the London Warriors.
The coaching squad was immediately impressed with his speed, especially considering his 6-foot-6-inch frame. One coach, who had been an intern with the Dallas Cowboys, flagged Obada to his former team and recommended they offer him a tryout. After just five games of experience with the Warriors, the Cowboys signed Obada to its practice squad in 2015.
He was sent from Dallas to the Kansas City Chiefs to the Atlanta Falcons before finally landing in Carolina in 2017.
After years on the sidelines, Obada played in his first NFL game last season as a Carolina Panther — and he seized the opportunity. Playing defensive end, he posted a sack and an interception in his debut game. His performance earned him the game ball from head coach Ron Rivera and the distinction of being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
As ESPN notes, his story is far from complete: Obada needs to prove his ability on the field in order "to extend his work visa beyond the one year, $570,000 contract he signed with Carolina in January. If he doesn't get re-signed or find another opportunity, he will have to move back to London."
The stakes are high — but for Obada, it fuels the fire. "He practices 100 miles per hour," Rivera told ESPN.
As Obada put it: "I go hard every time."
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