In the case of Da'Quan Bowers, last year's No. 2 prospect in the country according to Scout.com, it came even earlier than that.
Other times, it takes a while to identify the kind of potential that it takes to achieve elite-level status.
Perhaps the prospect plays at a small school and hasn't received the attention yet. Or maybe he just developed later than most.
Or maybe he's just a freakish athlete that has yet to get his opportunity to make a name for himself.
Enter West Florence defensive end Malliciah Goodman and Dorman offensive lineman Brandon Thomas.
While they may not be the biggest names for the class of 2009 in Palmetto State, they will be soon.
Thomas, who checked in at the Scout.com/Under-Armour Combine Saturday morning at 6-feet-4 inches tall and 279 pounds, promptly went out and ran a 4.88 and a 4.69 in two attempts at the 40-yard dash.
"I thought I did pretty good out there," Thomas told CUTigers.com after turning in his 4.69 time. "I'm going to be playing some tight end this year at Dorman so that's not too surprising."
Thomas was once thought of as one of the top 20 players in the state this year. After Saturday's performance, he made a strong case to be put among the top 100 prospects in the nation and could be moved into the four-star range.
And while he's not ready to make a verbal commitment just yet, he was more than ready to tell CUTigers.com his current leader.
"It's Clemson right now," he said. "I just feel real comfortable with the coaches and it's not that far away from home so that's good."
If Thomas were to commit to the Tigers, he would give Clemson a clean sweep of the top two offensive linemen in the state as Christ Church's J.K. Jay, a four-star prospect and the No. 13 offensive tackle prospect in the country according to Scout.com has been committed for well over a year now.
"I talked to J.K. last night," Thomas said. "He was wanting to know if I was going to come out here and I told him I was. I know him pretty good. We were talking about going out to eat sometime soon."
Another standout performance turned into today came from Clemson verbal commitment Malliciah Goodman.
Goodman, who was offered first by Clemson earlier this year and quickly went ahead with a commitment, showed outstanding speed and agility in several drills Saturday, including the 40-yard dash where he ran a 4.7 on his first attempt and a 4.53 on his second.
The 4.53 was the fastest times turned in by a defensive lineman.
The 6-5, 255 pound end also has the frame to easily add more weight and has extremely long arms- a valuable trait to have as a lineman.
"A lot of schools have called since I committed to Clemson but I've been turning them all away," Goodman told CUTigers.com. "I'm committed and that's not going to change any time soon. I like Coach Swinney and feel very comfortable there at Clemson.
"Plus I wanted to stay in-state. I didn't like South Carolina, so Clemson was the right school for me."
Like Thomas, Goodman spent time with fellow Clemson commitment J.K. Jay Saturday afternoon. He also met Devonte Holloman, the No. 2 safety in the country and another major Clemson target, and Stephon Gilmore, one of the Tigers' top targets at cornerback.
"I had heard about both of them before, but it was nice to finally meet them both," Goodman said. "I talked to J.K. some too."
CUTigers.com will have much more on Saturday's hugely successful Scout.com/Under-Armour Combine in the next couple of days, including exclusive video interviews, pictures and much more.