ROSWELL, Ga. — From his home in the Atlanta metro area, Demaryius Thomas approached his final football decision with the same mindset that he had when running a route over the middle of the field or going one on one with a cornerback.
No regrets. No fear.
That was the motto his mother recited to him before some of the biggest moments of his life in the NFL, and those words would guide him through the most significant decision in his football career — the decision to move on from it.
As of Monday, Thomas has retired from professional football.
"It was a tough decision, a real tough decision," Thomas told DenverBroncos.com. "… Always as a kid or always when I did something, it was always [giving] my best to go and go and go. And football was my go. Every year I tried to get better and better, and I knew I was aging, of course. It was something tough, but I'm grateful I did 10, 11 years. I'm so grateful for that and now I can move on. I'm happy, I'm healthy. And now I can try to find my next itch."
Thomas' career hit just about every single high one can reasonably hope for. The 2010 first-round pick holds multiple team records. He's behind only Ring of Famer Rod Smith in most career receiving marks. He once set the Super Bowl record for receptions. He won five AFC West championships, two AFC title games and one Super Bowl. He was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls, an achievement only three other players have done as Broncos. Simply put, Thomas is a practical lock for the Ring of Fame.
As the first receiver drafted in that 2010 class, Thomas arrived in Denver with boundless potential but a lot of work still to be done to fulfill it.
After recovering from a broken foot that he suffered during the draft process, Thomas made his debut for Denver during the second week of the season. With a team-leading eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown, Thomas had the third most productive first game by a receiver in team history.
It was a promising start, but his rookie season was soon derailed. He had just 14 more receptions the rest of the season, which ended early for him because of injuries.
The months that followed were no less rocky; he tore his Achilles tendon in February and then, after making a stunning recovery that would have allowed him to return early in the 2011 season, he broke a finger and missed more time.
Given all these hurdles, Thomas admits he faced some doubts about his future in the NFL.
"I came in with … the broken foot, and then coming off the Achilles, it was some doubt there because there was other things going around ball that bothered me," Thomas said. "But at the end of the day, I still chased it. I kept my head on and I still chased it. I got around some people that could help me get better and get healthier. I was still chasing the goal of being the ultimate best receiver, you know, being the best I can be and trying to get a Super Bowl."
Those achievements were still a long way away then in 2011, but he'd find his groove later that year, finishing the season with one of the most unforgettable moments in team history.
In a wild-card game matchup against Pittsburgh, the Broncos were underdogs by more than a touchdown despite playing on their home turf. The Broncos built a large lead, gave it up and then clung to a tie game as regulation came to a close. Then, on the first play of overtime, Thomas dashed across the field on a crossing pattern, caught a pass from Tim Tebow, turned the corner, stiff-armed a Steelers defensive back and then sent the stadium into hysterics with the sudden-death win. When the NFL celebrated its 100th season in 2019, the league named Thomas' touchdown the 76th-best play in league history.
The next season, with newly signed free agent Peyton Manning under center, Thomas developed from a promising, evolving player into one fully blooming in an explosive offense that would help him fulfill his potential. A physically imposing receiver that could build speed quickly in space, he became a matchup problem that most teams struggled to contain.
In 2014, Thomas put himself into the Broncos' record books with a 226-yard game and a 1,619-yard season, both of which still stand as the best marks in team history. But perhaps of more significance to him that year was his part in making league history as the recipient of Manning's 509th career passing touchdown, then an NFL record.
But even as the Pro Bowl selections started rolling in, Thomas kept his focus on the team.
"I wouldn't say took off for me, I would say took off for us as a whole group," Thomas said. "We learned as a group because I had games where I had over  yards before he got there. … And then having the group learning together as a whole, as one, thinking like one, that's when the best came out of all of us."
A year later, Thomas and the rest of the Broncos reached the pinnacle as the team advanced to Super Bowl 50 and took down the Panthers to secure Denver's third Lombardi Trophy.
With all that on his resume, why would he feel any remorse?
"No regrets at all," Thomas said. "There's no reason to. I'm here, I'm blessed. … I tried to do what I could do every play — if it was catch a ball, if it was to block somebody. I tried to put my everything in it every time."
Moving on won't be easy, and Thomas knows it.
Over the past year, he got his first taste of life without football. Since he was traded to Houston in 2018, Thomas spent the twilight of his playing career as a veteran leader for the Texans and Jets, but his final game came in December of 2019 as more recent efforts to find a team were fruitless.
"Mainly it's like for the last year or so or whatever it's been, it's just been trying to find myself," Thomas said. "Of course you know leaving ball, it's a tough thing. It's a tough thing to get away from because guys be trying to find that urge [of what] to do next, and it's nothing like ball that you could do next. So I've just been working on myself and trying to find myself."
Thomas' options are pretty open right now. Just like when he was in Denver, he knows making an impact on the lives of children is something that resonates within him. The desire to teach and remain involved in the game also is there.
"I think my hardest thing with it is I love ball and I love teaching it," Thomas said. "I could develop to teach the game and be around guys. It's excitement being around kids because that's a plus for me. Even when I was in Denver I went to Boys & Girls Clubs, me and [Senior Manager of Community Development] Liz [Jeralds] used to hang out with the kids all the time. That's one of the things I would miss, I think. And I think I want to stay around doing it, but I never know right now. I don't know what's the next goal. But my main thing is take it day by day and go from there."
But while his playing days have come to an end, his legacy in the game he loves will live on in Denver. Induction into the Ring of Fame at some point in the future appears almost guaranteed. When the Broncos traded him to Houston in 2018, President and CEO Joe Ellis said as much in a statement.
Thomas has pictured it, too, particularly the image of his name in all-caps letters being unveiled in the stadium.
"Man, I've been thinking about it for a while, just thinking about when I get old," Thomas said. "I think about just crazy stuff — when I'm old, when I'm away, just thinking, Man, when I'm in a grave, my name's still gonna be up here. … I think I just owe it to the hard work I put in and being around some of the people that helped me. I'm just grateful."
In the meantime, Thomas' focus will shift from playing football to something else. Maybe coaching it. Maybe working with kids. Maybe something completely different with a different interest that's close to his heart.
Whatever he does, it seems like a given that he'll approach it the only way he knows how.
"No regrets, no fear," Thomas said. "When you grow up, you're never scared of nothing. I was never scared of nothing — never scared of a challenge to do nothing. I don't know where it come from, but I never tried to say I was the best at something, but I was always the one to try to prove I was the best at something. I never grew up to disrespect, but I was never scared of nothing and never scared of working toward being the best."
Take a look inside Demaryius Thomas' life in retirement with these portraits and other photos from his home in Georgia.