USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF men's golf coach Chris Malloy knew he had something special when he signed Trey Valentine and Branden Collins.
Malloy liked the prospects of both freshmen showing glimmers of greatness in the fall and becoming comfortable at the college level by the spring.
"It's happened a lot quicker than I thought," Malloy said last week.
Valentine and Collins proved to be a dynamic duo from their first tournament as Bulls and ended up becoming USF's top players heading into the second phase of the season.
Both players posted 9-under scores in USF's first event on the way to tying for fourth place. That helped the Bulls finish second out of 12 teams at the GolfWeek Program Challenge in South Carolina on Sept. 13.
Valentine, a Melbourne native, seized the momentum of the first tournament and turned in another fourth-place finish at the Rees Jones Invitational on Oct. 4. Valentine's whole body of work this fall has propelled him to becoming the 34th ranked player in the nation at this point.
USF's final event of the fall saw both freshmen lead the way once again.
Collins returned to form by tying for third place at The Invitational at The Ocean Course, while Valentine was right behind him in a tie for fifth place. The Bulls had another second-place finish at a location in Kiawah Island, S.C., that has been proclaimed as the hardest course to play on in America.
"I expected to come in and be a top player on the team," said Collins, who set a tournament record by shooting 66 in the second round.
And that's just what Malloy is looking for in his attempt to build a top-notch program.
The second-year USF coach directed four All-Americans as an assistant at Florida State, helped the Seminoles win their first-ever ACC title in 2008 and has been searching for young talent that can make the Bulls a hit sooner rather than later.
"I needed to find the guys that were leaders and that would welcome the challenge of turning this program around," Malloy said.
Malloy didn't have to look too far to find Collins, a Tallahassee native. Collins placed highly at the state tournament his senior year at Leon High School and fired a 66 on the final day of the Teen World Championship at Pinehurst to win the event in 2010.
"The thing that really stood out with us with Branden is everything he did play in, he played well in and won," Malloy said.
For Valentine, a more seasoned junior circuit golfer, it was playing hot at the right time that attracted Malloy's attention. The Viera High School graduate won a district tournament and "played well in spurts," especially when Malloy was on the hunt for future USF talent.
"We knew he would be good," Malloy added.
Both players are happy they've ended up becoming Bulls and credited Malloy as the major draw to USF.
"I really liked what he did with FSU's program, so I was looking forward to seeing what he does with the program down here," Collins said.
Tampa's location certainly didn't hurt the recruitment process and Valentine loves the selection of courses the area offers.
"It's pretty much your fault if you don't get better when you come here," he said.
Fortunately for USF, both freshmen have taken off quickly and have helped the Bulls skyrocket to becoming the fastest rising men's golf program in the nation, according to GolfWeek. The Bulls finished last season ranked 192nd and are now 54th among all Division I teams in the country.
"It's due in large part to their play," Malloy said. "You can see they've elevated the play of the rest of this team."
The sky is the limit now for USF, which has Collins and Valentine for many more tournaments to come.
"They wanted to make a name for themselves and be a part of something special," Malloy said. "They have a great opportunity to do that here."