When Efe Obada, a Nigerian-born and United Kingdom-raised athlete, first got into football, coaches tried him at tight end. But during one practice snap, when Obada was asked to occupy the slot, he dropped down into a three-point stance like he was still next to an offensive lineman.
It was at that moment that all involved agreed Obada should give the other side of the line of scrimmage — where there isn't as much of a learning curve — a shot.
"I think that was a turning point," Obada said Thursday on a call with both Washington and international reporters. "They were like, 'You know what? Just go play defense.'"
That switch kickstarted a near-incessant journey that included an experience with the London Warriors, three forgettable stints with the Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons, a spot in the NFL's then-new International Player Pathway program and, finally, a much-needed and earned breakthrough in 2018 with the Panthers and Ron Rivera.
Obada then left Carolina to join the Bills in 2021 before signing with the Commanders (and reuniting with Rivera) earlier this week.
"I didn't have a lot of success early in my career," he said while reflecting on his climb through the NFL. "Got my ass kicked a lot."
It was in Carolina, though, where Obada first saw legitimate progress in his game, which he credits to the culture that Rivera instilled in the franchise. Obada described it as one "of learning" and "of patience," and he enjoyed his time there so much that he was upset with himself for leaving it for Buffalo last offseason.
"I felt like I should've made that decision last year," Obada said of linking back up with Rivera. "I didn't want to make that same mistake."
That's why, when Obada and his agent were surveying where to head next, he was "adamant" that only one destination truly appealed to him.
Obada, of course, wouldn't be with the Commanders if there wasn't any interest from the organization's side.
The soon-to-be 30-year-old defensive end logged 5.5 sacks in 2020 and 3.5 sacks in 2021, an uptick in production that indicates he's settling into a sport that once was totally foreign to him. A reserve role behind Chase Young and Montez Sweat looks like the perfect way to get the most out of his expanding skills.
"I'm going to bring some really great experience, I'm going to bring some really solid depth on the end," he said. "My philosophy is self-improvement and being impactful to the team."
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In Washington, Obada should feel rather comfortable, and not just because of Rivera's presence. Tight end Sammis Reyes was once in the International Player Pathway program, and so, too, was defensive lineman David Bada, whom Obada actually once roomed with during their respective rises in the IPP.
That comfort won't lead to complacency, however. Obada intends to keep growing, contributing and acting as a role model for other overseas kids who one day want to wear a helmet and pads in the NFL, all while getting after the quarterback for the Commanders.
"My mindset is that of lack and coming from a place of being behind," Obada said. "I take pride in this, I know what this is... I feel like if I dedicate my life and everything to this game that it's going to pay dividends and it has. My life has changed, my family's life has changed."