Efe Obada makes most of Panthers opportunity, awarded game ball

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nigerian-born Efe Obada never had an NFL game jersey before Sunday.

Now the Carolina Panthers' 26-year-old defensive end has an interception, sack and game ball.

He also got a lot of postgame attention.

"As you can tell, I'm not making eye contact,'' Obada said as he focused on taking tape off his fingers instead of looking into cameras following Carolina's 31-21 victory over Cincinnati. "So I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this.''

Obada became the first player from the NFL's International Pathway program to make a final roster. He has described a journey from his native Nigeria to the Netherlands to the United Kingdom -- via human traffickers. Then, in England, Obada says he and his sister were abandoned and left homeless.

But Obada has been careful not to expand much on his story, saying he would tell more once he was established. He was quiet the first two weeks after being on the inactive roster against Dallas and Atlanta. Asked if he is established now, Obada flashed a big smile and said, "I'm not established yet. I'll talk to you guys at the end of the season when we win the Super Bowl.''

Obada, 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, might not be established, but he proved why the Panthers kept him on the roster over draft picks who had played the sport their entire lives.

"Opportunity knocked on his door, and he opened it smiling,'' quarterback Cam Newton said.

Obada almost had another sack and a forced fumble on his résumé. The officials initially ruled that he had a strip sack of Andy Dalton in the second quarter, but after replay it was ruled that the quarterback's arm was in motion.

"Honestly, it doesn't matter, as long as we won,'' Obada said.

Coach Ron Rivera rewarded Obada with an opportunity to play this week because of the way he practiced following a defensive effort against Atlanta that Rivera called "terrible.''

General manager Marty Hurney credits Rivera with "pounding'' the Obada movement since training camp.

"Ron has seen something in Efe since Day 1,'' Hurney said. "His work ethic is incredible. He's got length. He's got pass-rush skill set. For a guy to come in, make the plays he did on this stage, for the little amount of football he's played, look at the upside.''

Obada played so well that future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers, fourth on the NFL's all-time sack list with 154.5, spent much of his postgame interview talking about the player with the locker next to his.

"That's just what happens when you're a good person and you work hard and you get your work in,'' Peppers said. "Everyone on the whole team is proud of him.''

The sideline went wild when Obada got his interception in the second half.

"Mario Addison came up to me and said he'd been playing for eight years and he doesn't have one yet,'' Obada said of his fellow defensive end, who tied Peppers for the team lead in sacks last year with 11. "That kind of made me feel like I achieved something.''

Many would argue that Obada achieved something just by making the roster.

"I'm so happy for him,'' safety Mike Adams said. "He was screaming, 'They don't know me! They don't know me!' To put it all in perspective, he worked his butt off. He's finally got an opportunity. He made the best of it.''

Obada hopes he is an inspiration for others who grow up in a country without football.

"I hope it means it makes that journey that much easier,'' he said. "I hope it creates more opportunity for [those] that love the game of football and don't have that opportunity because of no college and not being in the country.''