In San Mateo, a suburb of San Francisco off Highway 101, lies Junipero Serra High School, a private Catholic school. While the institution is named after a pivotal figure in California’s history, its football stadium bares its own name: Jesse Freitas Field.
Freitas, a legendary coach at Serra and an old-time football player, is now an assistant for Westview High’s junior varsity football team.
Freitas, 84, still has a love for the game, and was more than happy to help out his son Jim, the Wolverines’ head JV coach.
“I like football,” said the elder Freitas, who goes by the nickname of “Pops.” “It’s great being with young people. Things are done a little bit differently now.”
During a 17-year coaching career at Serra, Freitas compiled a 101-49-3 record, including seven league championships and two CAL Championships in 1951 and 1952. In 1954, Freitas guided the Padres to an undefeated, untied season. He retired from coaching in 1974, and was a teacher until 1996.
“If we went 8-2, that wasn’t a very good year,” said Freitas. “9-1 wasn’t too bad. All-in-all we had a pretty good group.”
In returning to the sidelines, though be it in a limited capacity helping with the Wolverines’ offensive line, Freitas recognizes some difference between players then and now.
“I think these young people see too much television,” he said. “Football is still basically blocking and tackling, This is hard to get across to them. You’ve got to play your own position.”
The older Freitas has a different way of doing things from his son Jim.
“He does a lot more yelling than I use to on the sidelines,” said Jess. “When I want to talk to a person, I grab ahold of him to get his attention and look him in his eyes.”
Throwing the ball was the order of the day back when Freitas headed the Serra program. Players that came through his system include John Robinson, who went on to become one of the top football coaches in college and the pros, and NFL Hall-of-Fame player Lynn Swann. Freitas’ sons Jim and Jess Jr. also played for him, with Jess Jr. attending San Diego State and eventually playing for the Chargers.
Barry Bonds and Tom Brady also played for the Serra football team after Freitas’ time on the sideline, but while he was still teaching.
Freitas, a veteran, fought in Europe during World War II. With the war’s conclusion, he returned to the states and played for the new All American Football Conference. Freitas was a member of the first-ever San Francisco 49ers team in 1946.
Now, though 84 and easily excused if he just wants to take it easy, Jess Freitas is back at what he does best, roaming a sideline.
“It’s pretty neat,” said Jim Freitas. “He was my coach. My football life has been pretty much with him. We obviously think a lot a like and I trust his abilities. He has a wealth of knowledge. He’s from the old, old school.”