Former Westbrook High star chasing football dreams in Europe

Jan. 14—When Miece Loureiro left Husson University after a strong sophomore season as the football team's leading rusher in 2018, he did so for a good reason.

"I had to come home to work," said the 2017 graduate of Westbrook High. "It was getting a little too much for me to pay for college, and I stopped and started working."

"I wasn't really planning on playing football again," Loureiro said.

Loureiro, a 6-foot, 195-pound running back with speed, strength and agility, still loved the game. But he knew one season as a starter for an NCAA Division III school wasn't going to open professional doors.

Or so he thought.

Fast forward to the present. Loureiro, who turned 24 on Jan. 6, is about to begin his second year playing in Europe. He left on Monday to join his new team, the Ours (Bears) de Toulouse in Toulouse, France.

Loureiro said he will earn about $1,000 per month with an apartment, two meals a day and a bicycle for a 10-game regular season in the Division 1 Elite league. Formed in 1982, it is France's top American football league.

"I've always wanted to get paid to play football, regardless of whether it was in the NFL or something else," Loureiro said. "To be happy to go to practice, be happy to play a game. I've always felt like this is the only thing that will actually make me happy to do."

Loureiro has already made progress with his adventures in Europe, where the range in quality among American football leagues can vary greatly and the compensation often tends to resemble that of semiprofessional sports in the U.S.

Last year, Loureiro signed with the Gyor Sharks of the Hungary Football League. He shared an apartment, coached youth or college teams five days a week, and earned $175 a month, which converted to roughly 60,000 Hungarian forints.

"We had a couple of restaurants where we could eat lunch for free. Only lunch," Loureiro said. "You could go to a grocery store and spend 20-30,000 forints for three weeks of food."

It was far from glamorous, but Loureiro played for three teams.

He started with the Gyor Sharks, who only played four games, and Loureiro missed two because of an injury. He also was a coach and player on the Budapest Titans, which played in Division I (the second-best level in Hungary). In five games with the Titans, Loureiro dominated, rushing for over 900 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns while helping the team go 8-0 and win its league championship.

"With the Titans, it was more like you had three or four good players on the team, but most of them were just starting off. The level was more like semipro in Maine," he said.

Loureiro also got a one-game call up with the Wroclaw Panthers, a Polish team in the European League of Football. The ELF was formed in 2020, had its inaugural season in 2021, and has quickly established itself as the highest level of football in Europe.

Unlike the old NFL Europe which had mostly American players, ELF teams can have only four United States "import" players on their rosters, and only two can be on the field at a time.

Loureiro rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries in the Panthers' loss at 2021 ELF champion Frankfurt Galaxy's 12,500-seat stadium.

"The ELF was the highest level that I think I've ever played at," Loureiro said, "and that was where I felt most comfortable and where I was pulling everything out of my bag."

Loureiro added, "I've only played at the (NCAA) Division III and semipro level. I haven't really seen a stadium like that or a crowd like that. I expected something and it met my expectations. It was loud and fun and I was surprised by how well everyone knew the game."

At Westbrook High, Loureiro was an all-around force. As a senior, he rushed for 1,582 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games and earned a spot on the Maine Sunday Telegram All-State team. He also was the team's strong-side linebacker, scored two defensive touchdowns, punted and returned kicks.

"He was very explosive. He had a unique strength and speed combo," recalled Westbrook Coach Sam Johnson, who was an assistant on the Blue Blazes' staff during Loureiro's junior and senior seasons. "He could make guys miss but he could also go right through you."

As a freshman at Husson, Loureiro played in two games backing up senior John Smith, the all-time leading college rusher in Maine, regardless of division. As a sophomore, Loureiro led Husson in carries (177) and rushing yards (993) and scored nine touchdowns as the Eagles went 8-3, losing in the first round of the Division III playoffs.

When he returned home, living in Windham with his mother, Gloria LaGrange, Loureiro worked "a lot of random jobs." But he still had the itch to play football. He recalled a chance conversation with former Portland High quarterback Issiah Bachelder on a bus ride home to Portland during his freshman year.

Bachelder, who was at UMaine, already had it in his mind to play for the semipro Southern Maine Raging Bulls, get some game film highlights, and then try to connect with teams in Europe. Bachelder signed with a team in Nice, France, for the 2020 season that ended up being canceled because of the pandemic. He also kept in touch with Loureiro.

"He was like, yo, you need to come play football again. Come to play for the Bulls and get some highlights," Loureiro said.

Loureiro's college and semipro highlights were loaded onto a website called Europlayers. As it turned out, the Gyro Sharks were interested in both Loureiro and Bachelder, who had met as grade schoolers at Camp Sebago in Standish. They were roommates last year in Hungary while both played for the Sharks.

"Dream come true, two kids from Maine that really shouldn't be playing football anymore, and now we're playing football and getting the chance to go overseas with it," said Bachelder said.

Bachelder is undecided about returning to Europe in 2023, but he's certain Loureiro will succeed in France's top league.

"There's a reason why he got called up to the (ELF). He's usually a top three player on every level he's played, and there's no difference over there," Bachelder said.

Loureiro, who is single, said he plans to continue to pursue his football dreams.

"The hope is to maybe get another ELF offer for a full season, because I believe if I was to go over and play a full season as a No. 1 back, I could be the best in that league," Loureiro said. "There are other leagues in Germany and Finland that pay two or three thousand dollars a month because they're a higher level of pay.

"Really, I'm just trying to make it where I could be making the same amount of money as if I was back home working. If I can, I'd rather be traveling the world and playing football."