Efe Obada – who was trafficked into the UK and left homeless in London aged 10 – had a dream start to his NFL playing career with an interception and a sack.
The 26-year-old had played just five games for the London Warriors in 2014 when he was spotted by the Dallas Cowboys and headed stateside for the rookie camps.
Obada, a 6ft 6in, 265lb defensive end, had been signed and released by the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons in previous seasons before joining up with the Carolina Panthers in May 2017.
His first regular season game came on Sunday as part of a 31-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He intercepted an Andy Dalton pass early in the third quarter, carrying the ball back for a four-yard gain, and had a sack late in the fourth with the score at 28-21, halting a potential Bengals comeback.
It could have been two sacks for Obada until a replay overturned one of his pressures into an incomplete pass.
Speaking after the game, Obada said: “The players and coaches kept reassuring me, letting me know my opportunity was going to come.
“And not getting that opportunity straight off the bat instilled in me that hunger and that drive that when I do get that opportunity, I’m going to ball out.
“I’ve been working my ass off, and I’ve been praying and I’ve been hoping that I do get an opportunity. When my name did get called, I just knew I had to make the most of it.
“I buried my head all week in my film studies, and then with some of the things I saw, it was instinctual. I knew what was coming.”
His team-mates were full of praise after the standout performance at the Bank of America Stadium.
Nine-time Pro Bowler and teammate Julius Peppers said: “”He took the hard road. He grinded it out. I’m just really happy for him. Everybody is showing him a lot of love and he deserves it.”
Safety Mike Adams added: “I’m so happy for him. He was screaming, ‘They don’t know me, they don’t know me’.
“And I’m like, ‘You’re right, they don’t know you. You’re from London, you’re from London’, so making jokes with him.
“I’m just so happy for him. To put it all in perspective, he worked hard, he worked his butt off. He’s finally got an opportunity, he made the best of it.”
Carolina’s general manager Marty Hurney said: “For a guy to come in at this stage and make the plays he did with the little amount of football he’s played – just think of the upside he’s got.”
According to NFL UK, Obada was born in Nigeria and trafficked from the Netherlands to the UK aged 10, when he and his 11-year-old sister were abandoned on the streets of Hackney.
He told the site in 2015: “It was scary and we were lonely. We went to a tower block building and there was a security guard there. We explained our situation and he let us sleep in the foyer of the flats.
“We spent two or three nights sleeping in the foyer of that building and we only had our jackets to keep us warm. It was freezing.”
Obada started playing gridiron in 2014, saying: “I didn’t really know anything about American football but I was told I had the physique and that I should try it.
“I fell in love with the sport. When I went to the first practice, I was just trying to get my frustration out and release some energy. I was congratulated for hitting somebody and I liked it.”