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‘Stay true to the vision that you have for yourself’: Life in the NFL and perseverance with the Bills’ Efe Obada

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 17:00, 25 February 2022

Anyone involved with the Buffalo Bills – players, coaches, fans – will invariably be disappointed by the team’s Divisional Round loss in Kansas City. However, a pre-playoff chat with the Bills’ Efe Obada suggests the team’s perspective will not waver. 

On the eve of the NFL playoffs, as the Buffalo Bills prepared for their playoff opener against the New England Patriots, we had the opportunity, as part of a media roundtable, to speak with Bills defensive end Efe Obada. The extremely enjoyable conversation covered a range of topics, from the specifics of the Bills’ upcoming game, to attitude within an NFL team, maintaining a healthy perspective, and Obada’s positively incredible journey to the NFL. 

Obada was born in Nigeria, but only lived in the country until the age of 10, at which time, having been separated from their mother, Obada and his sister were trafficked to the UK, where life offered little safety, and even less stability. Obada has spoken in the past about those years, and about the brutally tough conditions in which he and his sister were forced to grow up, and the anger and lack of trust in people it brought about within him: 

“It made me angry. I developed a lot of anger. It made me a negative and pessimistic person. I didn’t really believe in myself and because I never had that family stability it led me to turn to friends in the area and that led me into gangs and running with the wrong people.”

At this time, in his early-20s, while working early-morning shifts as a security guard, Obada discovered American football, and began playing for the London Warriors of the British American Football Association National Leagues in his spare time. This experience, which channeled his determination and incredible work ethic, proved transformative. Of course, successfully navigating the road to the NFL also required a bit of serendipity.

Soon after Obada began playing football, his defensive coordinator with the Warriors, Aden Durde, had a stint as an interim coach with the Dallas Cowboys (he is now the Cowboys’ defensive line coach). On Durde’s recommendation, Obada was given an opportunity to work out for the Cowboys, and thus, made his way stateside.

Obada’s initial plan of catching on as a tight end didn’t pan out, but he continued to grow and evolve as a player, and, after a couple of years on the Cowboys’ practice squad, re-emerged as a defensive lineman. He’d go on to join the practice squads of the Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons as well, before signing, in 2017, with the Carolina Panthers. Over three seasons in Carolina, he racked up 7.5 sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Last offseason, following his best NFL campaign – in which he had 5.5 sacks, Obada signed as a free agent with the Bills. In 2021, he appeared in 10 regular season games, racking up 3.5 sacks, eight QB hits and three tackles for loss.

What follows are additional excerpts from an enthralling chat with Obada about the Bills’ season, life in the NFL, and the journey that brought him here:

On the experience of joining an NFL locker room, and fitting in:

EO: Initially, the process was just loving the game, and just finding my fit. But now, I have the confidence in myself to be able to contribute and affect games and help the team win. As the talent is increased, my hard work and dedication to self-improvement have increased. As a guy that’s been in it, you know, I’m older (he’ll be 30 in April 2022) than the younger guys on the team and can maybe take someone under my wing, coach them up, and educate them.

On whether he’s lost his London accent: 

(Laughs). It comes and goes. Sometimes I have to slow down and annunciate a little bit so that they can understand me. And then sometimes I have to take it a bit of heat for the English accent, a little bit of childish ribbing. But yeah, I’ve still got it! (laughs).

On his relationship with Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington:

EO: When I went to Carolina, under his system, I felt like I was able to develop so much, and he was able to help me close that gap between my my knowledge and my skill set. And that was a huge factor in my decision to come here. I just want to make sure that I continue to learn and continue to grow, because it’s ever-changing in sport, and youth development is always changing too. I always want to get better and I feel like his philosophy is to treat everyone the same and hold everybody to the same standards.

On the trajectory of the Bills’ up-down-then-up-again 2021 regular season:

Efe Obada: Leading up to the season, and throughout the season, there was so much focus on what the team did last year. We were the favourites. And then we went through some adversity during the season, and had to find a way to come back. That’s why we’re in the situation that we are in today. But the approach stayed the same: the next game was always the most important game. We made sure that everybody was on the same page and that, once you’re in this building, you’re working and doing whatever you can to contribute.

On the experience of joining the Bills, who were coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance, and the attitude and approach within the Bills’ franchise:

EO: Every situation is different, and we are always evolving, and certain situations can be better suited for different guys.

I just think the atmosphere is different here. I love the players, coaches and a lot of guys in Carolina, but when I was there, I worked with three different coaching staffs. That’s different from a management perspective. Here, I’ve prepared for a role and know the processes. When you’re in different systems, those things are changing a lot. It’s just different.  

I get to see it behind the scenes, and see the development and all the work that we all put into this, from the coaching staff, to the players, to the guys on the practice squad, and the trainers. Their knowledge and their dedication, and how they approach it, is just really special. It’s a different environment.

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On the dedicated Buffalo Bills fan base:

EO: There an extra buzz here, like when you go shopping or at the gas stations and things like that. The fans here are intense. They’re intense. They know who you are, and they really support you.

We’ll come back from away games and it’ll be like four or five in the morning, and there are always some fans at the airport when we land, just cheering us on, win or lose. Or I’ll be Wegmans (a local grocery store), and, even though I’ve got a hat on, and my face covered, people are coming up to… So, yeah, it’s really intense. It’s great.

On Aden Durde’s impact on Obada’s life and career, and what makes him a good coach:

EO: Well, from Day One, he was the first person that really believed in me, and took time out of his life to coach me up, and invested in me when nobody else did. He made sure that opportunity in Dallas happened. That changed the whole trajectory of my life.

And, as a defensive coach, he’s f*cking amazing – sorry, you might have to bleep that out (laughs). He’s amazing. What he taught me, that’s always stuck with me, especially at times when I’m struggling, is that it is hard. Training is hard. As people, we go through life and sometimes feel sorry for ourselves. But the impact that he’s had on me is that, when things get hard, I try not to feel sorry for myself and just keep pushing.

Advice for any kids in the UK that looking to follow in his footsteps:

EO: My main piece of advice is to have self-belief. Don’t think of anything as impossible. I’ve been able to do it, and I don’t consider myself the greatest athlete, the most talented, or anything like that. I have some of that, but I also just work hard. Anyone can work hard.

Also, I would say to be yourself. I struggled with that a lot. Early in my career, I didn’t fully have that self-belief, maybe because of upbringing or something, but just believing I could do it, and I was good enough to do it. When I gained that confidence in my ability, then I felt like someone who’s got to sacrifice a lot. I quit my job, packed up my life and my family and started chasing this dream. It hasn’t always been smooth – I have moments and days where I’m down, but I just keep going and just stay true to myself. I’m still going. Stay true to the vision that you have for yourself, regardless.

✕︎

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