Against the Odds, Demaryius Thomas Made His Way to Football Greatness

With his mom and grandma in prison and an absentee dad, the Denver Bronco superstar is headed to the Super Bowl.

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Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

They say some people are born into their destiny. They step into the world that their parents create and build their reality. For Demaryius Thomas, reality consisted of being born to a 15-year-old mother and an absent father who joined the Army after high school. Thomas’ early life was the stuff rappers rhyme about and overworked social workers go home and cry about. But he’s beaten the odds.

Demaryius Thomas is starting as a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos versus the Seattle Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday. That in itself is a feat.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection will likely line up across from Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in what has the potential to be a one-on-one matchup for the ages. Back-to-back seasons of more than 1400 yards and double-digit touchdowns make Thomas one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL.

But Thomas isn’t much into self-promotion. Part of what makes him so exceptional is what he’s overcome. We have all heard tales of professional athletes who make it despite the obstacles, but his story stands out among even those arduous tales of redemption. A 2010 story in the Denver Post highlighted that fact. It documented his visit to the Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security women’s prison in Tallahassee, Fla., to visit his mother and grandmother.

Both women were housed there after being convicted for trafficking cocaine back in 2000. Can you imagine the pain of witnessing familial matriarchs from two generations locked in the belly of the beast? When it comes to individuals making it either in society or the NFL, people often point to specific environmental factors as a primary reason. "Home training" is a phrase that is often thrown around when black people don’t succeed. But it was clear early on that Thomas’ resolve was steely and determined.

His mother has been arrested numerous times on drug-related charges since 1989 and continued dealing in contraband every time she finished her bids. Prior to his prison visit, the last time Demaryius had seen his mother was the day his home was raided. She managed to convince the officers to allow her to prepare the children for school, to feed them and see them off on the school bus. The officers complied.

"I mostly did it to make ends meet, to buy my kids what they wanted, so they could wear what the other kids were wearing, so I could keep my house nice on the inside," grandmother Minnie Thomas told the Denver Post.

"I knew my grandma was selling it, and my mom was keeping some money," Thomas said. "I told my mother one time that they needed to stop because I had a dream that they got in trouble. I started crying like every night after then. And then it finally happened."

Grandmother Minnie was given two life sentences with the possibility of parole in 40 years because of prior drug convictions. Mother Katina Smith is scheduled to be released to a halfway house in 2017.
After the arrest of the two most important women in his life, and with Thomas' father still fulfilling an Army obligation at the time, it was decided by other family members that it would be best if he and his siblings remained stateside instead of sending them to be with their father.

Thomas went to live with relatives in Georgia while his father served the country, sending money and clothing when he could. Meanwhile, young Thomas and his sisters were being passed from the crowded home of one relative to another. Similar circumstances have caused many young black boys and girls to hit the streets at an early age.

The difficulties for Thomas were apparent. At first he lived with his paternal grandmother, then with his brother’s sister, before finally finding a permanent home with Uncle James and Aunt Shirley. His roots yearned to be planted in fertile soil. And that’s exactly what happened.

Read more at the Shadow League.

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