IRVING, Texas– From the most seasoned veteran to greenest rookie, there's a common bond between almost every NFL player. To get to this stage of the sport, it's a solid bet that your life has revolved around football for much of your life.
There are exceptions to that rule, and none more fascinating than Efe Obada. When he takes the field at training camp as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, it'll have been less than a year since his first game of American football.
"It's been a really funny journey," Obada said. "I don't know if all of you have seen my story, but I didn't come through the traditional system or the traditional ways of getting here."
The distinction of "American" football is needed for Obada, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the past 15 years. The description of a "funny journey" is also quite an understatement coming from Obada, who was working in a warehouse for Grace Foods on the outskirts of London as recently as two months ago.
"That job was horrible. It was strictly 9-to-5, it was soul-destroying, it doesn't really fulfill anything," he said. "It was just another job, really – just to survive and pay the bills."
The particulars of Obada's journey have been well-documented since he signed with the Cowboys in early April, and they go far beyond that. The 6-6, 256-pound prospect was trafficked from the Netherlands to London as a child, where he and his sister were abandoned and eventually entered into social services.
"We were home-hopping and living with strangers," Obada told Neil Reynolds of NFL UK back in April. "When you haven't got stability, you don't trust people – you know where you're living is not permanent and it's not real and you feel they're just getting paid to look after you. You develop trust issues and you develop your own little demons. It's not a nice feeling to not be wanted and to not have that security and stability."
Obada was following his own description – surviving – when he was approached by a friend about trying out for the London Warriors, a local club team.
"One of my friends played for the team and he kind of suggested it, like 'We need someone your size, you should do this. You're a big guy, why don't you try this sport,'" he said.
Obada came on as a defensive end just in time for the Warriors' final five games, helping the team to a national championship. It's an interesting enough story in his own right, but Obada's defensive coordinator with the Warriors, Aden Durde, interned with the Cowboys during training camp last summer.
Durde, who also played linebacker in NFL Europe, made sure the Cowboys coaching staff met with his raw prospect when the team visited London for its Week 10 game against Jacksonville last fall.
"When Dallas came over there last year, he introduced me to some of the coaches, they worked me out and they thought there was potential," he said.
That much is obvious, considering the Cowboys signed Obada to a three-year, $1.5 million deal when they brought him on board. He has spent time training with Durde playing as both a tight end and a defensive end, and the Cowboys have used him in both spots during spring workouts.
"I haven't really got too much experience at either end position, so the transition is easier for me," he said.
That can't be understated for Obada, who emphasized that he wasn't much of a sports fan growing up and said that he watched his first American football game at 4 a.m. one morning in 2013. Asked for his first impression of an NFL playbook, he simply laughed.
"At first it was just literally lines and letters to me," he said. "But like I said, the coaching staff and the people here are brilliant. They break it down to a basic level and make sure you can understand it. At the end of the day, you just have to go out there and make your athleticism show. That's what I intend to do."
It's hard to know what to expect from such a unique situation. Can Obada show enough to earn a stint on the Cowboys' practice squad, where he could spend the year developing? In true movie script fashion, is he somehow good enough to earn one of the handful of available roster spots?
That remains to be seen. Until then, Obada said he's got a simple strategy for the run-up to training camp, including the next two weeks of OTAs and minicamp.
"Effort. Effort and being consistent and listening and being able to be coachable – being adaptable," he said. "Hard work beats talent every day."