Returning to the UK used to give Efe Obada a break from the spotlight of playing in the NFL. Not any more.
And when his wife saw some teenagers throwing around an American football near their home, one of them said: “I’m going to be the next Efe Obada”.
Obada describes his wife as “his rock” – she has been beside him for much of his journey to the NFL from being abandoned in London after he was trafficked into the UK as a child.
He tells BBC Sport: “When she told me that story, I was like: ‘Wow.’ It made her smile in her heart.
“London was like my escape. I’d come back and nobody knew me. I could just walk round and do what I do.
“I’m getting spotted more and more now. Or people give me that ‘in between stare’ because they think they know me, or that I must be something because of my size.”
Obaba, who is 6ft 6in, knows his increased profile has plenty of positives, though.
“It was to my benefit when I went to a commercial gym to work out,” he says. “The guy knew who I am so he let me in for free.
“It’s nice because it shows the game is growing. From 2015, when I started in the NFL, it’s changed so much.
“England is embracing the sport and it’s becoming part of its culture. I’ve now got kids hitting me up on social media, telling me they want to be American football players.”
‘I had to go to the park to work out’
With Jack Crawford having retired, Obada – in his fifth season as an active player – is the longest-serving Briton in the NFL.
The defensive end is on a million-dollar contract with the Washington Commanders, having previously played for the Carolina Panthers and the Buffalo Bills.
But free gym sessions aside, he struggled for places to keep in shape during the off-season.
When back home he often has to train in public parks – just as he did in 2014, when he was working in a warehouse and dreaming of the NFL after discovering the sport with the London Warriors.
“Initially, the off-season was rough,” he says. “I had to take it old school – going to the park to work out.
“In terms of some of the machinery I need to work technique and certain explosive, dynamic movements, we just don’t have that [in the UK]. But I manage.
“I’ve been in the league for longer than average so I know what my body needs. Teams do give you a gym programme but I tweak it based on what I need, so I was definitely in shape. I did a lot of hill runs.”
Sacking the GOAT
The Panthers gave Nigeria-born Obada his NFL debut in 2018, and 2020 was his breakout season.
In the space of nine games, he sacked five of the modern era’s best quarterbacks, including Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But one name stood out – the “Greatest Of All Time”, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“The fact he’s the greatest of all time in his position goes out of the window, you’re just competing,” said Obada.
“When I got the sack, and he was down, I didn’t think about who it was or my individual success, I was just focused on winning.
“I didn’t know how huge it was until I got back to the locker room and my phone was just blowing up with people saying: ‘You just sacked Tom Brady!’ I was so chuffed.”
A record seven-time Super Bowl winner, Brady announced his retirement at the end of last season, only to reveal only 40 days later he would return for a 23rd season.
Obada understands why.
“When the off-season comes around, I get really bored, so I get it,” he says.
“He probably got home and thought: ‘You know what, this is boring, let’s go and play some football.’
“He loves the game, he’s contributed so much, and as long as he can keep playing at a high standard, then why not? I’m glad to see him back – and it gives me another chance to sack him!”
‘The impact he’s had on my life is amazing’
Obada joined the Bills after the 2020 season, but Washington offered him the chance to reunite with former Carolina coach Ron Rivera.
“Last year, Buffalo and Washington were my two final options,” he says. “I made the most of my opportunities at Buffalo but then felt it was time for a change.
“I decided if I got another chance, I’d play for Washington. Ron’s the only person I want to play for.
“He gave me my start in Carolina. He believes in international guys and gives them opportunities, and the way he carries himself as a man was something I’d never been around.
“The impact he’s had on my life, the atmosphere and the eco-system that he creates, it’s just amazing.”
Under new quarterback Carson Wentz, Washington made a winning start but now have a 1-3 record. Their three NFC East rivals all have at least three wins.
One – the Philadelphia Eagles – are the only team on 4-0, but Obada sacked quarterback Jalen Hurts two weeks ago and is enjoying more game time than at Buffalo.
He may not be back home for this year’s London series, which continues this weekend, but he will carry on flying the British flag.
“It was nice to get on that sack board really early in the season,” he says. “I feel like week to week I’m getting stronger.
“We’re not where we want to be but it doesn’t define us. If we can go on a little winning streak, we can close that gap.”