WHEN Conor Driscoll joined San Jose State’s judo club in 2006, he says he stunk. His coach agrees. “I took one look and said, ‘This guy isn’t any good at all,’” head coach Yosh Uchida says. Four years later, Driscoll is competing at the highest level of the sport.

Driscoll, who was one of four players from San Jose State to earn a spot in this year’s World Championships, says he owes his success entirely to the judo legend Uchida. “It came from the instruction of one of the best coaches in the nation,” the 29-year-old grad student says. Driscoll says he was intimidated weighing in with his heavyweight division competitors at the competition in Tokyo earlier this month. “This was the first time that I was by far the smallest guy in the room,” the 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound judoka says.

Driscoll and teammates Allison Clifford, Marti Malloy and Jose Bencosme all lost their first matches of the tournament, which was completed Sept. 13. Uchida says Bencosme, Clifford and Driscoll were at a disadvantage with little international experience.

“Judo is one of the sports that you just have to keep plugging away at,” Driscoll says. “And hopefully you gain more experience and finally become a top-tier player.”

Malloy entered the tournament as the 12th best player in the world for the 57-kilogram division. Uchida says Malloy, who won the USA World Cup in August, has given her teammates belief that they can compete at the highest level. “She’s the type of leader that we haven’t had in a long time,” Uchida says.

Uchida, who coached the first U.S. Olympic judo team in 1964, says this was the first time in about a decade that four San Jose State players earned berths to compete in the World Championships. “We have been maintaining a certain plateau, but now I think we have started to push forward,” he says.

Colton Brown won the 90-kilogram Junior Pan-American Championships on Sept. 5, which features the best under-20 judokas in North and South America. He says his goal is to play in the World Championships and he’s proud of his teammates.

“That’s a big deal,” the freshman says. “You’re representing your country.”

The quartet’s inclusion in the championships was another indication that San Jose State has the best collegiate program in the nation. The Spartans have won 44 out of 49 national championships. But Uchida and his players strive for more.

“The expectations are pretty high for everything,” Brown says. “You’re supposed to come back with a medal.”

Driscoll says it was a huge disappointment when the club had no representatives in the 2008 Summer Olympics, and he expects better results in 2012. “We had a lot of success this year but this is not even the start of it,” he says. “You’re able to see the progress that’s going to come with the guys that we‘re working with now and with the young guys coming up.”