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The 72 hours that changed Demaryius Thomas' life for the better

Posted Jul 17, 2015

With his new five-year contract and news that his mother will soon be released from prison after 15 years, Demaryius Thomas experienced a joyous and transformative 72 hours.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Facing a two-decade prison sentence, Demaryius Thomas' mother was battling depression. She was unable to experience the defining moments of parenthood: her son's first touchdown catch, his high school graduation and tearful goodbyes when he moved to college. All Katina Smith could do was speak with her children during occasional visits or on the phone; the extent of watching them grow up was limited to the changes she saw from one visit to the next.

When Thomas was 11 years old, his mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison and his grandmother to life, because it was her 'third strike.' It displaced much of the family, and Thomas and Smith have been separated ever since.

Money was the root of their family's biggest problem, so Thomas tried to comfort Smith by telling her he'd become a professional athlete in something.

At the time, Thomas figured that something would be basketball. At 6-foot-3 he was a point guard with good size and ability, but a conversation with his high school football team's coach changed his mind and his life.

"I still remember the day," Thomas began. "I was in the weight room working out and the football coaches saw me. They sat down with me one day after the season was over with basketball and they said 'We just want you to try out and come try the sport.'

Initially, the 15-year-old Thomas didn't budge.

"I was like 'Man, I'm not doing [any] football,'" he recalled thinking. "And they got me in the weight room the rest of the years I was there [at West Laurens High School] and I sat down with Coach [John] Kenny.

"I sat down in his office and he said, 'There's a lot of guys in the NBA that’s your size, and a lot of them don’t make it. There's not a lot of guys in the NFL your size that can run like you do and catch like you do. So I'm going to let you think about it and we'll go from there.'"

Though Thomas had a chance at being a good basketball player and continuing on to the collegiate and perhaps the pro level, the odds at him becoming a phenom at football and proceeding to the NFL were greater.

"That was slim pickings," he concluded, "and I went with football."

The rest is, quite literally, history. Thomas was a significant part of the Broncos' 2013 record-setting offense and then set multiple individual franchise records in 2014.

He made good on his promise to his mother; in fact, he made more than just good. He made a defining path and career, turning difficult beginnings that few can fathom into something that people tune in to watch every autumn Sunday.

What he has accomplished over his years as a Bronco is incredible, but it's always come with a bit of sadness because the one person he'd love to share all of it with has been limited to watching it from prison, where Smith has served her sentence for drug trafficking since 2000.

But that will soon come to an earlier-than-expected end. Smith was one of 46 people whose sentences were commuted by President Barack Obama on Monday. Thomas said that within two weeks she will move into a halfway house before hopefully moving completely out by Nov. 10.

Once the season ended, Thomas and his mother learned that such an outcome was a possibility, but the news on Monday came as a bit of a surprise when he woke up to two missed phone calls from Smith. He'd never gotten calls from her that early so he knew something important had happened.

"The first person who told me was her," he said. "The first thing she said was she’ll be out in Nov. 10. She called me back a couple hours later. She’ll actually get out in two more weeks to go to a halfway house so that’s kind of good, to be back in Georgia.

"It was joy. I was kind of excited. I didn't know what to say. I was excited. To be out in the next two weeks, it's been a long time coming," he added.

That joyous news on Monday began a 72-hour span that will offer the three-time Pro Bowl receiver stability he hasn't had since he was a young boy.

On Wednesday the Broncos and Thomas came together to complete a five-year deal that they had been working toward for much of the year to this point. If he plays out his contract, Thomas will have spent a decade with the Broncos, reaching closer to his goal of retiring as a Bronco.

Normally such a decision would weigh heavily on a person, but in light of his mother being released from prison about five years earlier than expected, Thomas breathed easier with a grander perspective of his life and not just his career.

"At that time, I was like, 'Whatever's happening, I'm still going to be playing here no matter what,' and if it had to go down to the franchise [tender], I'd be in the same situation as I was last year, trying to get the deal done," he said.

Of being able to get such stability with his mother's commuted sentence and the long-term contract, he said: "That's big. You know you'll be set in stone for a while and mom's getting out to be able to see you play ball. That's real big."

In the next two weeks, he hopes to visit his mother in Georgia before camp begins. Eventually, once Smith is able to leave the halfway house, Thomas will have her out to Denver for a game as soon as he can. Plus as a Bronco, he'll remain where he wants to be with the long-term contract. Thomas said the only thing left is for his grandmother, who is also serving a drug-trafficking sentence, to be released, too.

But for now, almost everything seems to be falling back into place for Demaryius Thomas for the first time in a long time.

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