Commanders’ Efe Obada reunites with Ron Rivera in Washington


At first look, the tape seems to be strange, a third-and-11 sack of Tom Brady in 2020 by a defensive lineman hungry to deal with the NFL’s best quarterback.

And the out-of-the-ordinary a part of this tape isn’t the play in any respect; it’s the truth that, simply 5 years earlier than bringing down a legend, the defensive lineman making the deal with didn’t know who Brady was.

Efe Obada, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in the UK, acquired his first shot at an NFL roster in 2015, when he spent the spring and summer time with the Dallas Cowboys and was waived earlier than the common season. In 2017, he was a part of the NFL’s Worldwide Participant Pathway program, which assured him a apply squad spot with Coach Ron Rivera’s Carolina Panthers. The following season, nonetheless with the Panthers, he turned the primary participant from this system to make a 53-man roster. That 2020 sack of Brady was a bucket-list merchandise for Obada, who signed a one-year contract with the Washington Commanders in March in a transfer that reunited him with Rivera and line of defense coach Sam Mills III.

Practically 4 years after he performed in his first common season recreation, Obada remains to be shocked by the unlikelihood of all of it. After being deserted as a 10-year-old in London along with his sister, he spent years in foster care and labored in a manufacturing unit earlier than stumbling upon a apply by the London Warriors of the British American Soccer Affiliation. Now, he has earned his technique to the best ranks of a sport he knew nothing about till he was in his 20s. However as time has handed and his journey has turn out to be higher identified, it hasn’t felt any much less surreal.

“I feel grateful, and I feel blessed,” Obada mentioned of his journey to the Commanders. “And so many stars had to align, so many people had to say yes. I had to be on the right team. I had to play the right position.”

After a lot of the 30-year-old’s soccer journey was happenstance, the most recent chapter, the one which introduced him to Washington, has been extraordinarily intentional.

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Obada performed 10 video games in his rookie season of 2018, then 16 the next 12 months. Then got here his breakout season in 2020, when he logged 5.5 sacks — together with that of Brady. Coming into free company after the 2020 season, Obada was courted by Washington and Buffalo, in the end electing to signal a one-year contract with the Payments. He spent 2021 in Buffalo, ending with 3.5 sacks in 10 video games, then leaped on the likelihood to reunite with Rivera and Mills.

Obada is primarily a defensive finish however can slide inside to deal with, which bolsters the depth chart throughout the road. With Chase Younger nonetheless recovering from a torn ACL and James Smith-Williams working by means of a hip harm, Obada’s utility as a reserve defensive finish is essential.

Rivera has praised Obada’s positional flexibility and particular groups presence, indicating he’ll see the sector with that unit as effectively. And Mills lauded Obada’s development for the reason that two first labored collectively, when Obada was nonetheless studying the vocabulary and nuances of soccer.

Just lately, Mills recalled one of many highlights of their time along with Carolina, when the Panthers performed in London in 2019. Throughout a uncommon likelihood for Obada to play in entrance of his residence crowd, followers flocked to the defensive finish and reveled in his presence on his residence turf.

“He was a rock star,” Mills mentioned, emphasizing each phrase. “And we had dudes on that team. But they love Efe, and you understand why. When he smiles, his smile brightens the room.”

Obada counts that day among the many most memorable of his profession, and he has grown to understand the expertise much more over time, pointing to the sheer luck of enjoying for a crew with a London recreation on its schedule throughout his tenure. He was named a captain for the day, and he took a few of his teammates to Nando’s Peri-Peri, one in every of his favourite eating places, which he was elated to be taught has a location not removed from the Commanders’ apply facility in Ashburn.

Though he might need to depend on the restaurant’s Virginia places throughout the season, Obada nonetheless jumps at possibilities to return residence. He’s closely concerned with the NFL Academy, which offers youngsters in the UK with the prospect to play soccer whereas additionally furthering their training. For Obada, the prospect to provide again is an important a part of his stardom.

“I never really had opportunities, and then when I was given one, I became an NFL player,” Obada mentioned with fun. “So I’m like, ‘Okay, well, even if they don’t become NFL players, I’m sure it will lead to something else.’ ”

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Obada has embraced each alternative in his NFL profession, and the prospect to develop in Washington was no totally different. And although it meant shifting to his third crew in as a few years, the transition has been a snug one.

There may be familiarity right here in Rivera, Mills and David Bada, one other graduate of the Worldwide Participant Pathway program. Bada, a defensive deal with who was born and raised in Germany, remembers watching Panthers video games after Obada made the 53-man roster, in search of him on each defensive and particular groups snap.

The 2 later have been roommates for a short while when Obada performed for the Panthers and Bada was within the Worldwide Participant Pathway program.

“I snore a lot, so he didn’t like it,” Bada mentioned, laughing. “But it was fun for me.”

Bada has answered any questions Obada has had in regards to the playbook whereas leaning on Obada’s expertise to enhance his method. The 2 can relate to many elements — and hassles — of being worldwide gamers. As an illustration, when the Commanders reported to camp final month, Obada was a day late, nonetheless in London getting his visa renewed.

Though journeys to the UK present a much-desired likelihood to return residence, Obada hopes he can renew his visa much less ceaselessly sooner or later. Visas are administered in accordance with the size of NFL gamers’ contracts, and Obada hopes Washington is perhaps a adequate match to permit for an extended tenure.

However even with logistical hurdles, he’s grateful to have the ability to journey residence — and grateful for the prospect to return to the US to play the sport he has grown to like.

“Before football, I never had a passport,” Obada mentioned. “… So it’s just opening my world.”

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