Denver Broncos  


Demaryius Thomas thankful to Denver Broncos, Barack Obama


On the afternoon when this all began, before an evening when Demaryius Thomas took a massive step into NFL stardom and lore, the Denver Broncos wide receiver pulled out a Sharpie and wrote the names of two women on the inside of his left arm: Katina and Minnie.

He looked down at the arm often that day, a reminder of the women who gave him strength and motivation and perseverance and life.

"I'd thought about quitting football," Thomas told me during an intimate interview in early 2012 about his path through physical injuries and personal heartbreak. "But I told them I wouldn't quit something I started.

"That's part of the reason I wrote their names on my arm. I wanted to remember to never quit."

During that game, while his mother and grandmother were serving long prison sentences for drug-related charges, Thomas caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow on the first snap of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. In many ways, it marked a major chapter in his life.

And this week has now done the same.

In the shadows of national sports news about Thomas' new five-year, $70 million contract with Denver, something else miraculous happened two days earlier in what might be one of the most rewarding three-day spans that a man can expect to ever experience.

On Monday, President Barack Obama granted commutations to 46 federal prisoners locked up for non-violent drug charges, noting "their punishments didn't fit the crime" and that they would have received lighter terms under new sentencing guidelines.

In a press release from the White House, which lists those 46 names of otherwise unrecognizable citizens, the 33rd name is equally undistinguishable: Katina Stuckey Smith, sentenced to 292 months of prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base.

Yes, Smith is Thomas' mom. And she's coming home to Thomas in November.

"These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years," said Obama, invoking what he called one of the most profound powers of the Presidential office. "Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses. So their punishments didn't fit the crime."

Thomas was in just the sixth grade when police raided his home to arrest his mother and grandmother, which means Nov. 15 (when the Broncos play the Chiefs in Denver) marks the first chance Thomas' mother will have to watch him play football in person. To this point, she has only seen him play on a grainy prison television.

"I talk to my mom on the phone every morning of every game," Thomas said. "But it's still strange to me: I've got fans in prison because of my mom and my granny."

To this point, Thomas said that his mother and grandmother have a group of friends in prison who all watch the Broncos' games together, wearing handcrafted T-shirts with his jersey number, 88, written on the front.

It has been a difficult struggle for Thomas over the years, living his dream without the women who mean the most to him being able to enjoy it with him. On March 18, Thomas tweeted, "Missing my moms and granny.. Can't wait til that day come.... Think it's overdue .."

Thomas previously said he was paying attorney fees for his grandmother to seek leniency, but his mother told him that he shouldn't do the same for her because she felt there was a chance for clemency. With 2 1/2 more years before the sentence was to end, she did indeed get that mercy. There is no update currently on the status of his grandmother, who had a sentence twice as long (40 years) as his mother.

No doubt, this will be an exciting year for Thomas in the wake of the week's news, but he also surely recognizes it will take time for his mother to get readjusted to life outside of prison. His relationship with his mom, though, will be just fine.

"We didn't talk that much after she went to jail," Thomas said. "The only time I'd talk to them was when my step daddy would take me to go see them. Once I got to college, we talked about all of the things that happened.

"She apologized for all of it, explained everything, and we moved forward."

Leading up to the police raid of his house, Thomas recalls seeing his mother and grandmother cooking crack cocaine in the family's kitchen. Despite their efforts to hide it from Thomas, "I saw everything," he said. Following their imprisonment, Thomas bounced between houses of extended family members from sixth to 10th grade.

For his final three years of high school, Thomas lived with his father's oldest sister and her husband -- James and Shirley Brown -- learning a life of discipline. He says he never touched drugs, never committed a single crime.

"I used to get up every Saturday at 6 a.m. to pick peas and pull corn with my aunt and uncle," Thomas recalled during the 2012 interview. "We'd go from 6 to 11. Then I'd have to cut grass and rake the lawn. I had no choice. I was an usher in the church, went to bible study every Wednesday."

Thomas' discipline paid off. It also gave him the will to persevere through five injuries in the first two years of his NFL career, leading up to his breakout season in 2012. With Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Thomas has become just one of three wide receivers in NFL history (joining Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison) with 1,400-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns in three consecutive seasons.

His payday, which came on the brink of a deadline to extend franchise-tagged players, was inevitable. One source from another team told this offseason that his organization was prepared to unload a massive contract on Thomas if the Broncos did not franchise him. He is viewed as one of the best wide receivers in the game -- and he is only 27.

So yes, given his path in football and his path in life, it is reasonable to say Thomas had a week like this coming. He has grinded his way through life, enduring hardships on and off the field, all while maintaining his strength by remembering that he told his mother and grandmother that he wouldn't quit what he started.

Now, in the wake of this beautifully poetic week, Thomas' mother will get to see him finish it with a rewarding contract instead.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.



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