x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Broncos’ Thomas driven to perform in Super Bowl for mother, grandmother watching in prison

Demaryius Thomas' mother and grandmother have been in prison since 1999 on drug charges, and have never seen the Denver receiver play in person. But he said 'I think that drives me more to know that they're there and they're watching me.'

Demaryius Thomas had 1,430 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns for Denver this season. AP Photo
Demaryius Thomas had 1,430 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns for Denver this season. AP Photo

Demaryius Thomas’ mother and grandmother will cheer for the Broncos receiver around the prison TV tomorrow, both wearing No 88 jerseys they crafted with strips of tape.

The two women have never seen Thomas play in person. He was 11 when police burst through the door of their home and arrested both on drug charges in 1999. Police allowed Katina Smith to walk her son and his two younger sisters to the school bus one last time.

Now she is at a minimum-security prison in Florida, sentenced to 20 years. Her mother, Minnie Pearl Thomas, who had two previous drug convictions, received two life sentences with the possibility for parole after 40 years.

Smith could have gotten a lighter sentence by testifying against her mother, but she refused.

They will watch Thomas play in his first Super Bowl, when he will be matched against Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman for much of the game.

“I think that drives me more to know that they’re there and they’re watching me,” Thomas said. “I try to go out there and play my best because they’re going to talk about it to the people in the jailhouse.”

Thomas’ father was serving in the army and stationed in Kuwait when his mother and grandmother were arrested. He went to live with an aunt and uncle, Shirley and James Brown, a Baptist minister who lived six miles away.

Thomas, called “Bay-Bay” by his family, started working as an usher at the church and attending Bible study after track and basketball practices.

“Once I moved in with him [his uncle], I told him I wanted to do something to stay off the streets and stay out of trouble, so I tried football,” Thomas said. “And it worked out for me.”

Thomas, a first-round pick by Denver in 2010, has flourished since Peyton Manning came to Denver in 2012, catching 204 passes for 3,089 yards and 27 touchdowns over the last two years.

Yet, Thomas is the antithesis of the prima donna wide receiver who demands passes and attention. He never says a thing to the cornerback covering him, much less talk trash.

It goes back to the values instilled in him by his aunt and uncle, Thomas said.

“It made me a stronger man and a better man just being in that atmosphere, working harder, knowing that nothing’s going to be easy.”

Brown said it was not easy taking in another child with three kids of his own and just one paycheck, but he found ways to make it all work. He also found the money to keep Thomas involved in sports.

“I truly believe his Christian upbringing and sports, playing basketball and football, contributed to him releasing a lot of the anger and anxiety that he had in him,” Brown said.

“He left it on the basketball court, on the football field so it didn’t get bottled up in him.”

Brown says he just wanted Thomas to grow up to be a good man, never thinking he would become a star.

“The blessing has been just seeing the product of how we took this young man who was lost – well, trying to find his way – and we were able to nurture him and give him what he needed,” said Brown, who will be in the stands tomorrow.

“When Demaryius was staying with us, I never dreamed that he would be in the Super Bowl. I just wanted to make sure the anger in him didn’t send him down the wrong path like his mama and grand-mama had gone down.”