Demaryius Thomas had his eyes set on going to college and maybe, just maybe, reaching the NFL for years.
Thomas, a talented receiver at Georgia Tech who later became a first-round pick, certainly achieved that goal. He turned into an All-Pro receiver who won a Super Bowl as Peyton Manning’s top target with the Denver Broncos.
Thomas dreamt of that life during a tragic childhood upbringing. After growing up in a drug depot and seeing his family members arrested in front of him, Thomas stayed focused and became one of the best receivers of his generation.
Demaryius Thomas had an excellent career
Born on Christmas Day 1987, Demaryius Thomas starred at Georgia Tech and joined the NFL as a first-round selection of the Denver Broncos in 2010.
Injuries limited him to just 22 catches and two touchdowns as a rookie. A year later, Thomas caught an 80-yard touchdown from Tim Tebow to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card round.
It wasn’t until 2012, when Peyton Manning arrived in Denver, that Thomas truly became one of the league’s top receivers. The third-year wideout made his first Pro Bowl when he caught 94 passes for 11,434 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Thomas posted similar numbers (92 catches, 4,430 yards, and 14 touchdowns) in 2013, the year Manning threw for an NFL-record 55 touchdowns.
From 2012-17, Thomas caught 575 passes for 7,891 yards and 51 touchdowns; that amounts to averages of 96 catches, 1,303 yards, and eight touchdowns a year, which is why Thomas made five Pro Bowls and earned two second-team All-Pro nods in that span.
Denver traded Thomas to the Houston Texans midway through the 2018 season. Now 32, Thomas is a free agent after he had 36 catches, 433 receiving yards, and a career-low one touchdowns in 11 games for the Jets last year.
Thomas grew up around drugs
Many NFL players, including fellow 2010 draftee Jimmy Graham, have had tragic upbringings. Demaryius Thomas is no different.
With his father in the military, Thomas grew up with his mother, stepfather, and grandmother. The trio ran a cocaine distribution ring in Georgia.
Local police arrested the three in March 1999 when Thomas was only 11 years old. In a 2015 story for The Player’s Tribune, Thomas recalled the day police “busted in” right before he went to school.
“The first thing I saw were the guns pointing at me. Big guns. Like in a movie. I didn’t know they were police. I just saw guns and red dots flashing. They told me to get down. I laid on the floor and they went into my mom and stepdad’s room. They brought them out in handcuffs.”
Katina Smith, his mother, received 20 years in prison. Minnie Thomas, Demaryius’ grandmother, faced 40 years to life.
Demaryius Thomas reunited with his family as an adult
In July 2015, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders.
Katina Smith was one of the commuted ones. She had a chance to watch her son play in person for the first time in January 2016, when Demaryius Thomas — then age 29 — caught four passes for 40 yards in a 23-16 victory over the Steelers.
Minnie Thomas was next. Six months after Thomas won the Super Bowl, he learned his 60-year-old grandmother joined another 214 inmates who had their sentences commuted by the president.
“Wanna Thank the @POTUS for everything he’s done for my family, and a lot more families giving them second chances,” Thomas tweeted. “Couldn’t be a better day!”
Thomas celebrated having the women home by making his fifth and, to this point, final Pro Bowl that year.