Chiefs linebacker Efe Obada, the Nigerian native who arrived in the United States two years ago from London where he played football for the first time, bristled at the notion that he’s a long shot to make an NFL roster.
“I don’t think it’s a long shot at all,” he said. “I’m not there yet, but I’m in a better position than I was last year.”
Or any previous year. Indeed, Obada’s path is that unusual. Why not an odds-defying conclusion?
Obada, 24, was signed by the Chiefs in March, when he was waived by the Cowboys after a season with two stints on the practice squad. Based on Obada’s 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame, speed and athleticism, Dallas had made Obada the first international to go straight from an American football European team — the London Warriors — to the NFL.
The Cowboys knew of Obada through a connection. Warriors assistant coach Aden Durde had just served an internship with Dallas and the Cowboys were scheduled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London in 2014. A workout was arranged.
“I had nothing to lose,” Obada said.
Truer words …
A Nigerian native, Obada was trafficked from the Netherlands to London when he was 10 along with an 11-year-old sister. They were left homeless there, spent five years in a London home with five other children before entering social services.
Obada described that portion of his life as “home hopping,” and his late teenage years became difficult. Without family, Obada said he turned to gangs.
“I developed a lot of anger,” Obada said in a 2015 interview with nfluk.com. “When you haven’t got stability, you don’t trust people. You know where you’re living is not permanent and it’s not real and you feel they’re just getting paid to look after you. You develop trust issues and you develop your own little demons. It’s not a nice feeling not to be wanted and to not have that security and stability.”
Obada was 22 when he found American football. The Warriors bill themselves as an urban American football club that sponsors teams for men and women at several age levels. Obada joined the senior team for the final few games in the summer of 2014 and strapped on pads for the first time in his life. His days included a 9-to-5 shift as a security guard and warehouse store man, a job he hated but one that paid bills.
A better offer came that November as the Cowboys prepared to play at Wembley Stadium in London. A few months later, Obada landed in the U.S., for the first time. “A life-changing moment … like a movie,” Obada called it.
Finding a position proved tricky. Obada initially lined up at tight end, but eventually was switched to defensive end for the Cowboys. The Chiefs have lined Obada up at linebacker.
“With people who get to play in high school and college, you figure out where you fit in and what kind of player you are,” Obada said. “I started at tight end, but the terminology was just too unfamiliar. I moved to defensive end, and they told me, where the ball moves you go. I had more success there.
“Physically, I’m fast and I’m strong. I look the part, but it’s understanding the game. I’m learning how to become a little more fluent in football.”
The football lessons continue for Obada on the Chiefs’ practice fields during organized-team activities.
“He’s a guy that’s working hard studying hard, been trying to really fine-tune his understanding of the scheme,” Chiefs linebacker coach Gary Gibbs said. “This is a good experience for him right now. … He’s a good, competitive guy, wants to improve.”
Obada does that by absorbing all he can in practice and by observing one of his favorite players, Tamba Hali. Obada, still building knowledge of the NFL, wasn’t familiar with the Chiefs’ roster when he signed, but players like Justin Houston and Hali were on his radar.
Hali, a Liberian who left his war-torn native country at age 10, has served as something of a mentor.
“Tamba has been a great coach for me,” Obada said. “He steps in when I make mistakes. He shares his wisdom.”
Is it unreasonable to believe Obada could one day play the position of Hali or Houston in an NFL game? Not to Obada.
“This isn’t something that was just handed to me,” Obada said. “I believe I can do it.”