The Freitas name is famous within the halls of Serra High School in San Mateo, California. Jesse Sr. began the family dynasty by becoming a San Francisco 49ers quarterback before embarking on a long, successful career as the Serra Padres football coach. His sons, Jesse Jr. and Jim would continue the family dynasty by starring for their father at Serra before embarking on collegiate careers of their own. This is their story.
Jesse Freitas Sr. was born on February 7, 1921 in Red Bluff, California. He attended Santa Clara University where he led the Broncos to a 7-2 record, reaching as high as ninth in the AP rankings. After college, Freitas served in the US Army, commanding an artillery unit in the Battle of the Bulge and earning a Bronze Star. Following his service in World War II, his coach at Santa Clara, Buck Shaw, was impressed with his quarterback’s ability and vouched for him when he was hired as the 49ers first coach.
Freitas didn’t start a single game with the 49ers, but in two years he tossed seven touchdowns to nine interceptions. After 1947, he was traded to the Chicago Rockets where he started nine out of 10 games. He threw 14 touchdowns to 16 interceptions in his lone season in Chicago. He played one game in Buffalo in 1949 where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass but threw two interceptions. He retired after the season.
Upon his retirement, Freitas was hired to be Serra High School’s head football coach, a position he would hold on and off until the mid 1970’s. He began his coaching career being shut out by Stockton High School 27-0 and it wouldn’t be until the third game of the season that he would get his first win against San Mateo 18-13. The blissful feeling of victory was quickly washed away with a four game losing streak to St. Elizabeth, South San Francisco, Marin Catholic and Bishop Monogue (Reno). Going into their last game of the season, the Padres were 1-6. They fought a tough battle and defeated St. Mary’s 25-16 to finish Jesse Freitas’ rookie season at the helm
Everything seemed to click the next season. Serra went 7-2 with their only losses being to Bellarmine (26-12) and Sequoia (13-6) while going undefeated in the Catholic Athletic League. In 1952, John Robinson joined the Padre varsity squad, he would eventually become the head coach of USC and the Los Angeles Rams. The season started off disastrously for the Padres, losing to Richmond 39-0. However, they rebounded to finish the season 4-2-1 with a 3-0-1 record in the CAL.
After defeating Yuba City to begin the 1953 season, Serra proceeded to lose the next three games. After losing to St. Mary’s 28-6, the Padres then shut out the last three opponents of their season. The 1954 season was truly special, with Serra finishing with a perfect 9-0 record. After that year, Jesse Freitas left to coach at the College of San Mateo. He would be gone for the next five years.
He briefly returned to the sidelines for the 1960 and 1961 seasons, winning the league championship in 1961 with a 7-1-1 record. After the 1961 season, he stepped down for three years and during those three years, the Padres tied for a league championship once and struggled to even win as many games as they lost. It was clear that Serra needed Jesse Freitas to be their coach.
The Padres struggled in his first two years back on the sidelines, going 3-6 in 1965 and 4-5 in 1966. Things began to turn around in 1967 when a young receiver stepped on the field. His name: Lynn Swann. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer was a slender, quick receiver who excelled in a variety of other sports at Serra including basketball and track. It was clear from the beginning that Swann was going to be special and Jesse Freitas could only hope that Padre football could reap the benefits from having such a great athletic specimen grace their field.
1967 was the first year of the West Catholic Athletic League’s existence and the Padres proved that they belonged in the newly formed league, going 5-1 and only losing to Saint Ignatius 27-7 which was led by quarterback Dan Fouts who would go on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. There were no playoffs in those days and Serra finished the year 8-1. Serra went undefeated in league play the next two years, losing just two games to non league opponents Vallejo and Woodside respectively. In 1968, they avenged their loss to Dan Fouts and Saint Ignatius, defeating the Wildcats 38-26. During those years, Swann and Freitas’ son Jesse Jr. set a slew of records. Swann set a career record for touchdowns with 38 and placed second behind Steve Fegan for most touchdowns in a season in 1969 with 15. He also set the school mark for receptions in a career with 91 and in a game with 10 in a 1967 contest with St. Mary’s as well as yards in a career with 1,503.
Meanwhile, Jesse Freitas Jr. was blessed with trio of receivers in his two years as a starter. Along with Swann, Freitas also had Tom Scott and Pat McClennon who were more capable of catching his passes. In two years as a starter, Freitas set the school record for most passing yards in a career with 3,802 and a season with 2,116 in 1968 as well as attempts in a career with 472 and a season with 263 in 1968. The combination of Swann and Freitas was devastating for opposing defenses who usually had no answer for their connection.
By the time Swann and Freitas had graduated, Serra had established itself as a power in Bay Area high school football. But the departure of such talent is hard to duplicate and Serra struggled for the next two years, never coming close to winning the WCAL championship. However, in 1972 things began to change. That year was another turnaround for the program which enjoyed an 8-2 record as well as Freitas’ final league championship.
The following year, Jesse Freitas’ other son, Jim became the Padres quarterback. While his career wasn’t as prolific as his brother’s, Jim still set a couple of school records, including most yards in a season(2,230 in 1974), most completions in a season (156 in 1974), most attempts in a season (265 in 1974) and most touchdowns in a season (30 in 1974). Jim Freitas twice threw five touchdowns in a game (Palo Alto in 1973 and Bellarmine in 1974), a feat his brother only accomplished once. He finished his career tied with his brother for most touchdown passes in his career with 45.
Until Jesse Freitas’ time as the Padres coach ended in 1974, Serra finished each of his final three years 8-2. After defeating Saint Ignatius 31-14 at the end of the 1974 season, Jesse Freitas Sr. stepped down his coaching position, deciding to focus on teaching. He ended his career with 102 wins, 49 losses and three ties along with seven league championships, including three in the WCAL. He would remain a teacher at the school until 1996 and was inducted into the San Mateo County Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. In the years to come, his sons would continue to carry the legacy that their father started.
After graduating from Serra in 1969, Jesse Freitas Jr. attended Stanford for two years before transferring to San Diego State University. In two years as the Aztecs quarterback, Freitas tossed 28 touchdowns to 31 interceptions. His best season was 1973 when he led the nation in passing yards, throwing for 2,993 yards and tossing 21 touchdowns against 17 interceptions while completing an incredible 65.4% of his passes. When the season concluded, Jesse Freitas earned the Sammy Baugh Trophy, given annually to college football’s top quarterback. After graduating, Freitas was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the 1974 NFL Draft.
Only starting in seven games for his career, Freitas struggled to complete more than 45% of his passes. In his rookie year he threw three touchdown passes while being intercepted eight times. In 1975, he tossed five touchdowns and five interceptions. When the 1975 season was finished, so was Jesse Freitas who quit the team when they decided to start Dan Fouts instead of him. Freitas was hurt as he had beaten Fouts in high school and felt that he was the better quarterback. He was never signed by anyone else and his professional career became a disappointment after such a stellar prep career. But there was one more member of the family who had a career to look forward to.
When Jim Freitas graduated from Serra in 1975, he attended the College of San Mateo for two years, after which he accepted a scholarship to Long Beach State University. He was spectacular his first year there, throwing 15 touchdown passes to 16 interceptions. It looked like maybe he could do even better the following year, his senior year, but he was injured early in the year and only played in four games, having never thrown a touchdown pass all year. As a result of his misfortune, the NFL never called, ending his playing career.
An Enduring Legacy
After his football career ended, Jesse Freitas Jr. struggled and was in and out of treatment centers and jail as he battled mental illness. He was found dead in his car on February 8, 2015. His father, Jesse Freitas Sr. passed away five years later on May 17, 2020 after a battle with cancer. He was 99 years old. Years earlier, Serra High School decided to honor him for his years of service to the school and named the field after him: Freitas Field. Though he has passed on, his legacy and that of his sons lives on.