Efe Obada back in London for business with the Carolina Panthers

‘I’m here for business’: Efe Obada on the Carolina Panthers’ grudge match with Tampa Bay, why Christian McCaffrey is a beast and gaining 20lbs

  • Efe Obada first played American football five years ago for the London Warriors
  • He has a remarkable backstory and his sporting journey continues
  • The defensive lineman, 27, will play for the Carolina Panthers at Tottenham
  • He has put on 20lbs of muscle in the offseason and is getting used to a 3-4
  • Obada calls the game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ‘a grudge match’

Efe Obada has been hearing all about this day for a while now. The wait is over.

Five years after first playing American football, the defensive lineman will play for the Carolina Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The 27-year-old has been overwhelmed by the attention surrounding his return to London as he takes the next step from astonishing backstory to a versatile NFL player. 

Efe Obada, who is a BIGKID ambassador, visited NikeTown on Friday on his return to London

Obada looked happy to be back in England ahead of Sunday’s clash at Tottenham’s stadium

Obada is still getting used to the intricacies of a complicated sport, but a combination of a good woman, his fierce work ethic and solid team-mates have put him in good stead.

Although the latter have a habit of mentioning the London thing…

‘Everyone wanted to know where to eat, where to go. What to do. Putting on their best English accent. Trying to mimic it. “What words shall I say?”, all that stuff. The guys sense my vibe and know that I’m getting a bit fed up with it,’ Obada tells Sportsmail.

It’s not that he’s not excited. It’s more that he’s focused on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the task in hand.

After finally landing with his team on Thursday morning – Obada has been all too aware of this trip since April – the visit is strictly business.

‘I was overwhelmed with everything that was going on. It’s not me coming back in the offseason, it’s me coming back during the season. It’s a different vibe. And I don’t want to annoy any coaches and not be focused. This moment doesn’t come very often, I want to be focused,’ he says. 

Obada, pictured in March, has a remarkable backstory and continues his sporting journey

Obada has found a home in Carolina and is a versatile piece in their defensive scheme

Obada’s remarkable backstory is well-told but nevertheless worth repeating.

Trafficked to England from his native Nigeria via Holland at the age of ten, he survived on London’s streets with his older sister, eventually moving from foster home to foster home.

He dodged the capital’s gang culture and while working unpacking boxes in a Welwyn Garden City factory took up American football with the London Warriors after a chance meeting with a friend.

He has barely looked back since.

After stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, Obada landed in Carolina and became the first member of the NFL’s International Pathway Player Programme to make a team’s 53-man roster.

Last season he turned heads against the Cincinnati Bengals with a dream debut. After a sack and an interception, he was named NFC defensive player of the week.

He signed a one-year, $570,000 (£450,000) deal for the Panthers in January and continued to learn his craft, his dedication earning him the respect of coaches and team-mates.

Obada praised Panthers team-mate Christian McCaffrey, calling him an ‘absolute beast’

The Panthers moved from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 in the offseason, meaning Obada had to learn a new role, moving from defensive end in a front four to a moveable piece in a front three.

‘At first I was a bit hesitant. I didn’t think I would fit in. I didn’t know where my role would be. A new system, never played it before. I had to put on a lot of weight because I was going to go inside.

‘I was used to being on the end even though I hadn’t mastered the end yet – and now you want me to go inside and learn a whole different thing? But it worked out in my favour. I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m versatile. If anything I think it helped my stock.

‘I played some nose. I played some tackle, I played from outside. I think I’m just a jack of all trades, really and I think they trust me to put me into any position.’

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was behind the move and Obada says his door is always open.

‘He’s definitely welcoming. The other day, playing inside I just felt that I haven’t had the production that I wanted in terms of sacks. I went up to him to ask if I was doing the right things, or if there’s anything else I need to work on.

‘He said I was doing good. I’m taking on the doubles and that frees up opportunities for the other guys. So keep staying the course.’ Obada, who is listed as 265lbs (18st 9lbs) in team literature, has had to put on weight for his new role.

‘I’ve put on 20lbs of muscle. That’s weights, diet and a good woman! I’m constantly eating. My wife cooks a lot, I don’t know if you’ve seen my Instagram. She looks after me!’

Carolina are 3-2, in part thanks to the form of running back Christian McCaffrey. His 866 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns (four rushing) have put him firmly in the conversation for MVP.

‘He’s an absolute beast. Call it how it is! He’s a monster. He’s a pro,’ Obada roars.

‘I see the way he carries himself on and off the field. And I see the amount of time and money he invests in himself. It’s inspiring.’

Obada signed a one-year deal with Carolina in January as he familiarises himself with the sport

The 6ft 6in Obada is not permitted to tackle what he calls the team’s ‘golden goose’ in team practices.

‘You see why now,’ Obada says. ‘I’ll be back here without the team if I tackled him!’

And what of today’s game against their NFC South rivals? The Bucs (2-3) won 20-14 in week two, but Carolina (3-2) have found their feet since, winning their last three games.

‘We’re trying to just ride that momentum. We lost to them at home in Charlotte. This is a big one, it’s kind of a revenge type game. It’s kind of a grudge match,’ Obada says. The Panthers return to Carolina immediately after the game ahead of their bye week. Will Obada be sticking around in London?

‘I’ll fly back with the team. I’m here for business,’ he says.

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