Too small for football and too short for basketball, young Bob Julian went out for the track team at his Fullerton, Calif. high school.

This athletic process of elimination led to Julian finding a love and passion for the sport that he has since coached at Ashland High for 30 years.

After three decades of coaching Grizzly track in multiple capacities, Julian, 62, called it quits and retired from coaching in 2001. However when the team had a coaching vacancy this season &

head track coach Ron Graham moved to Hawaii for a year and plans to return next season &

Julian decided he could give it one more year to try to revive what had recently been a slumping program.

"They would start with 60, 70 kids and wind up with 35," said Julian, who took over on an interim basis. "The kids weren't buying into the sport. I feel that we have to sell the sport. Make this sport attractive so kids will come in here."

The coach believes in a team mentality in a sport mostly based on individualism. He says a team connection makes for a better overall experience.

"Here you've got everybody doing different things," he said. "But it is a team sport in that sense. Kids can get into helping other kids out there and rooting for them. Getting that team concept, it just makes everybody rise to another level."

After a running career at Cal State Fullerton, Julian graduated from the University of Oregon. Although he was done competing, his passion continued. He had always admired his coaches in high school and college and he wanted to be in that position.

He says his life was changed by the sport he loves. He just wants to pass it on.

"They've gotten here and maybe they weren't successful in much of anything else and not even that good of students," Julian said. "But they find out here that they can be successful and feel good about themselves. It just builds up their whole opinions about themselves, their character, where they wanna go on and graduate and go on to careers."

There is just one criteria for competing on Julian's squad: a competitive spirit. He wants his team to enjoy competing and strive for greatness.

"We want to look forward to the big meets to compete with the big competition because it's going to bring you to a higher level," he said. "That's what we're looking for in kids and try to instill. Kids that are afraid to go after or obtain a higher level, they'll never reach a higher level. They'll never improve. Because every time there's another challenge, that fear is going to set in and they'll never try to reach for that challenge."

Julian's exit from coaching and math teaching in 2001 was a result of his own satisfaction. At peace with his accomplishments, he was reluctant to return this season.

"I've never felt like what I'd done wasn't finished," he said. "I never wanted to go back and do a little more. I felt like I had a good career there. I had the downs and the ups but overall, yes, I was really satisfied with what I had accomplished from point A to point B. That's why I did retire."

Since the initial retirement, Julian has spent his time directing and assisting with track meets in the region. A visit to last year's high school state meet gave him the itch to return to the Grizzlies when asked. He says he is exhausted and doesn't know how he used to coach while teaching math full time.

"I'm enjoying it and not regretting at all," he said. "But it's a lot of time. But I'm excited about it and I'm giving it everything I've got through the state meet."

He hopes Ashland can send 10 boys and 10 girls to the state meet this season and is shooting for a top-two finish in the conference standings. He has been impressed by the work ethic and attitude of the team, especially by the 15 seniors on the squad.

"Our seniors are truly showing some great leadership," he said. "I see nothing but positive. Usually you've got all these bad things you can say that happened in a meet. I can't name one. Every kid out there is putting out a great effort, having fun with it."

Like a politician, Julian won't shut the door on possibly coaching after this season. But he does feel strongly that this year will be his last. Instead of a storybook ending with trophies, Julian wants one of a revitalized, sustainable track and field program.

"I want to see us move up in the standings and I want to see us finish with the same amount of kids we're starting with," he said. "We've got 48 kids on the roster right now; we want to finish with 48 kids. That would be incredible to not have one kid quit this team throughout the season."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.