Issiah Bachelder
Former Portland High School student Issiah Bachelder during a game with the semi-pro Southern Maine Raging Bulls of the East Coast Football League. He's now playing professionally in Hungary. (Courtesy Issiah Bachelder)
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Hopes and dreams for an international football adventure are plentiful for Issiah Bachelder, but none are more important than supporting his newborn daughter.

As the 2017 Portland High School graduate prepares for his first professional season quarterbacking the Győr Sharks of the Hungarian American Football League, it’s his 3-month old daughter, Korra, who drives the 22-year-old Bachelder.

Greg Levinsky“The hardest part is being away from her, but she’s my No. 1 catalyst,” Bachelder said recently, wearing a throwback Florida Marlins-era Portland Sea Dogs hat in a Zoom interview from his Hungary dormitory room. “This is my dream and everything I’ve wanted to do, but since Korra has come into the picture, it’s really pushed me.”

Bachelder’s foray into professional football comes after a strong semi-professional career. He enrolled at the University of Maine out of high school, ultimately deciding after a year it wasn’t for him. Not ready to give up on his football career, Bachelder played with three northern New England semi-pro football teams, most recently the Southern Maine Raging Bulls of the East Coast Football League. He also played last spring with the Maine Machine of the Independent Association.

All of his football, until now, was unpaid. Bachelder worked at local restaurants and warehouses to earn money. In Győr, the team covers Bachelder’s accommodations, medical insurance, and travel to and from the United States, which compensates for a modest salary, Bachelder said.

Following his first two semi-pro seasons, Bachelder considered going back to college and playing football in the fall of 2019 at the Division II or III levels but ultimately decided to go overseas. He weighed offers, some good, some bad – one Australian team offered no salary or paid expenses – until settling on a contract with a team in Nice, France. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Bachelder never went.

He and his girlfriend found out they were having Korra just as COVID-19 vaccinations rolled out to the general public.

“It was that moment,” Bachelder said, “that we asked, ‘is this really what I’m going to do?'”

He could’ve played American football in Serbia last spring and returned home in time for his daughter’s birth. Instead, Bachelder stayed home. Working, building a financial cushion for the family, and supporting his girlfriend throughout her pregnancy proved pertinent.

“We decided that we were going to have this family and allow me to pursue my dream after the baby was born,” Bachelder said.

Bachelder moved to Hungary last month, the only American player at the time of his arrival. Nearly all of the 35-40 players on the roster are Hungarian. The head coach is from Canada. Nemieceo Loureiro, a 2017 Westbrook High School alum and former running back at Husson University, joined Bachelder in Hungary during the second week of February. Two other Americans, from New Jersey and California, are slated to join the team. Bachelder is coaching the Sharks’ development program as part of his contract and said he hopes to someday coach a high school team and start a youth program in Maine.

He also hopes to work his way up to the German or Canadian football leagues. For what almost wasn’t, he is thrilled to just get started.

“Between when I couldn’t go to France until when I arrived here, I was like ‘is this really going to happen? Am I wasting my time?'” Bachelder said. “At the end of the day it was having faith in the sport and that my time would come, and thankfully, it did.”

Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].