Demaryius Thomas was one of the best wide receivers in Denver Broncos’ franchise history.
The 6’3, 225-lb. Thomas used his size, speed, and agility to score from anywhere on the football field. He also used his physical attributes to overcome defensive backs who tried to put the clamps on him.
When legendary quarterback Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, Thomas’ career took off— Thomas strung together five 1,000-yard receiving seasons and four Pro Bowl seasons.
While these figures don’t include the 2016 NFL season when Manning had already retired, it was still a memorable stretch in Demaryius Thomas’ ten-year pro football career.
Thomas overcame adversity at an early age when police arrested his mother and grandmother on drug-related charges.
Consequently, he learned about hard work and independence as a young boy growing up in rural Georgia.
Although Thomas never started a football game until he reached 10th grade, he learned the ropes of the gridiron fairly quickly.
Sadly, Demaryius Thomas passed away at the age of 33 in December 2021.
The football world lost one of its best and brightest stars way too early.
Demaryius Antwon Thomas was born to parents Bobby and Katina in Montrose, GA on December 26, 1987. He had two younger half-sisters, Tonecia and Tyeshia.
Bobby Thomas and Katina Smith met in 1985. Although they never married, they remained cordial and even shared custody of Demaryius.
Bobby Thomas enlisted in the Army after he graduated from high school. His superiors assigned him to Fort Rucker in Alabama after Smith got pregnant.
Demaryius Thomas’ family gave him the nickname ‘Bay Bay” when he was just an infant, per The Denver Post’s Lindsay Jones.
In a first-person essay Thomas wrote on ThePlayersTribune.com in November 2015, he said his mother Katina Smith gave birth to him when she was just 15 years old.
Because of their close age gap, they played one-on-one basketball and raced against one another in their yard when he was growing up in Georgia.
Thomas remembered having a bad dream when he was eleven years old—he felt like something terrible was about to happen.
After several months, Demaryius Thomas’ premonition came true.
Undercover policemen barged through his family’s trailer park door at seven in the morning on March 15, 1999.
“The first thing I saw were the guns pointing at me,” Thomas wrote on The Players’ Tribune some seventeen years later. “Big guns. Like in a movie. I didn’t know they were police.”
Thomas lay down on the floor while the police made their way to his mom’s and stepfather’s room. They promptly handcuffed them and brought them out of the trailer.
His mother Katina begged the authorities to let her walk her kids to the school bus one last time.
At that point, Thomas knew he wouldn’t see his mother for a very long time. The police gave in to her request—the kids saw the commotion while Thomas’ mother kissed them on the cheek and waved goodbye to them.
The first thing the other kids did was pick on him when he boarded the bus—they knew Thomas’ family was up to no good.
Demaryius Thomas just kept to himself in his seat.
As a recovering crack cocaine addict who spent some time inside crack houses in forgotten neighborhoods, I know how that drug can devastate communities.
Demaryius Thomas grew up in a home where his mother sold crack just to survive. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/qTqVGjpkif
— Vic Vela (@VicVela1) December 10, 2021
Thomas faced a dilemma. The police had just arrested his stepfather, mother, and grandmother Minnie Pearl Thomas for crack cocaine distribution. On the other hand, his biological father Bobby was in the military.
According to Jones, Thomas’ grandmother had a previous track record of drug distribution. She first sold marijuana the year before her grandson Demaryius was born. Police arrested her that same year.
Thomas continued selling drugs because it helped provide for her family’s needs. She eventually manufactured and sold crack cocaine from her house.
Authorities arrested Thomas in 1991. She remained undaunted and continued peddling drugs after serving a 14-month prison sentence.
“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,” Thomas told Jones in the summer of 2010.
Demaryius Thomas had to find a way to take care of himself and his sisters after his mother’s and grandmother’s arrests. His life would never be the same.
“I told myself I was going to get a scholarship so I could get a degree and take care of my family,” Thomas wrote on ThePlayersTribune.com in 2015.
Thomas’ ambition of getting a bachelor’s degree was several years away, and he had to perform hard, manual labor in rural Georgia to make ends meet.
He had only two choices back then: do farm work or get involved in drugs like his mother and grandmother. Fortunately, Demaryius Thomas chose the latter.
Thomas woke up at six in the morning to pull corn and pick peas and butterbeans before going to school daily.
He also lived a vagabond life when his mother was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute in Tallahassee, FL. Thomas lived with his aunt, grandmother, and whoever was willing to help him.
Thomas had just one pair of shoes and three pairs of jeans. He became so despondent that he cried himself to sleep every night.
Well-meaning people reached out to Thomas: his high school coaches, relatives, friends, and pastors gave him a shoulder to cry on during this trying time.
Demaryius Thomas would eventually see his mother again when he became a Pro Bowl wideout with the Denver Broncos 15 years later.
While Demaryius stayed with extended family in Montrose, GA, his biological dad Bobby sent money for his necessities and expenses, per The Denver Post.
Thomas eventually settled in with an uncle, James Brown, who became his surrogate father.
Brown was a minister at a Baptist church. When he took Thomas in, the latter became an usher in his church.
“He’s got something on the inside that was instilled in him at a young age and that helped through a lot of his adversity,” Brown told the New York Post’s Mark Cannizzaro in January 2012. “That’s the reason he’s at peace with himself because he knows Christ.”
When Demaryius Thomas joined the Brown household, he hoped to never be around drugs again because he saw first-hand what they could do to someone’s life.
Thomas had to take part in the chores that Brown’s children Angela, LaTonya, and Ben did at home. James even imposed an 11:30 p.m. curfew.
James woke Demaryius up on summer mornings so he could mow the grass and pick peas in the field at the back of their house. They took the peas to town to sell them.
Demaryius Thomas attended West Laurens High School in Laurens County, GA. He excelled in basketball and football for the West Laurens Raiders.
Thomas first played basketball during his formative years in Georgia. He began playing football in middle school just so he could be involved in more activities.
I just emailed Demaryius Thomas position coach while he was at West Laurens High School – Jeff Clayton.
He tells me that the rumors are true. The former Georgia Tech and Broncos receiver has passed away at the age of 33. pic.twitter.com/WnmVfm1ln2
— Miles Garrett (@MilesGarrettTV) December 10, 2021
According to Jones, Thomas first started a game in tenth grade at defensive back. He became a wide receiver during his junior season.
Thomas decided to focus his energies on the gridiron the following year because he was merely an average-sized hoopster.
On the other hand, he had the potential to flourish as a wide receiver in the college football ranks.
Though strict, the Browns allowed Thomas to focus on sports and academics. He eventually graduated from West Laurens High with an impressive 3.5 GPA.
Demaryius Thomas remained in-state and continued honing his football skills with the NCAA’s Georgia Tech Yellowjackets.
College Days With the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets
Demaryius Thomas attended Georgia Tech University from 2006 to 2009. He majored in business management.
Thomas redshirted his true freshman season in 2006.
It became increasingly evident that Demaryius Thomas was NFL material during his junior season at Georgia Tech.
Despite playing in Paul Johnson’s triple-option run-oriented offense, Thomas blew up the stats sheets with an incredible 25.1 yards per catch average—the second-highest in program history—in 2009. It came as no surprise when Thomas earned First-Team All-ACC honors that year.
With Thomas, Georgia Tech won back-to-back ACC division titles in 2008 and 2009.
I met Demaryius Thomas when he was at Georgia Tech – painfully shy and incredibly sweet. He grew so much as a person but never lost that sweetness & kindness.I asked him if he was happy and this was the picture he sent me. This smile truly epitomizes his light. Devastating. pic.twitter.com/nvIj0btlVU
— Laura Okmin (@LauraOkmin) December 10, 2021
The Yellowjackets averaged nine wins per season from 2007 to 2009. They appeared in the Humanitarian Bowl, the Chick-Fil-A-Bowl, and the Orange Bowl during that three-year time frame.
He told RamblinWreck.com’s Kelli Stancil in the spring of 2009 that he considered information technology to be the most interesting subject he learned in college.
Thomas loved listening to music and praying during his pre-game prep in his college days. His favorite musicians were Morgan Burnett, Brad Jefferson, and Anthony Hamilton.
Thomas’ favorite snacks in college were oats and honey and granola bars.
He decided to forego his redshirt senior season to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Thomas finished his three-year stint with the Yellowjackets with 2,135 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 113 receptions.
Demaryius Thomas’ tenure on the college gridiron was a prelude to greater things to come in the National Football League.
Many fans and pundits would consider him one of the greatest wideouts who ever donned Denver Broncos blue and orange.
Pro Football Career
The Denver Broncos made Demaryius Thomas the 22nd overall selection of the 2010 NFL Draft.
He became just the 12th Georgia Tech Yellowjackets player selected in the first round of the draft, per the team’s official athletics website.
The Broncos envisioned Thomas as the heir apparent to former No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall, who racked up three straight 1,000-yard-plus seasons with Denver from 2007 to 2009.
Denver traded Marshall to the Miami Dolphins for two draft selections in the spring of 2010.
When Thomas turned pro in the fall of 2010, his mother Katina Smith called him from prison before every game, per Cannizzaro.
James Brown, the Baptist minister who helped steer Thomas in the right direction as a youngster, called him before each game as well. Brown and Thomas prayed together on the phone before Thomas took the field on Sundays.
Family was everything to Demaryius Thomas—he had a tattoo of the word “Family” on his inner right bicep and “First” on his inner left one.
When Thomas entered his rookie season in the summer of 2010, he had already visited his mother at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, FL five times.
Each time Thomas visited, inmates treated him like a celebrity—they chanted his name across the visitors’ room. Thomas, in turn, signed autographs for them.
Before these five visits, Thomas’ biological father Bobby had brought him to visit his mother only once as an adolescent. Demaryius did not want to go back after that visit, per Jones.
During Thomas’ fifth visit, he saw his grandmother Minnie Thomas for the first time since police arrested her on March 15, 1999, per The Denver Post.
The three celebrated their reunion by playing card games and tic-tac-toe.
Thomas was just 11 on the day of her arrest. When he saw her 11 years later, he had grown to 6’3″ and weighed 229 pounds as the rookie wide receiver for the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
With Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ starting quarterback, Thomas had 834 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions in his two pro football seasons from 2010 to 2011.
The Broncos made history in the AFC Wild Card game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8, 2012.
In Denver’s first possession in overtime, Thomas caught Tebow’s game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass.
The Broncos prevailed after just 11 seconds of overtime, 29-23. It was the shortest overtime game in NFL postseason history.
The key turning point in Demaryius Thomas’ pro football career was the Broncos’ acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012.
With Manning under center, Thomas had the most prolific stretch of his pro football career from 2012 to 2016. The only exception was in 2016 when Manning had retired. Trevor Siemian took over the reins as quarterback that year.
Thomas had five consecutive 1,000-yard-plus seasons from 2012 to 2016. He easily eclipsed his predecessor Brandon Marshall’s three 1,000-yard-plus seasons from 2007 to 2009.
Thomas helped the Broncos win 13 games during the 2013 NFL season. Unfortunately, Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks prevailed in a blowout in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.
Despite playing with a separated left shoulder, Demaryius Thomas set a then-Super Bowl record with 13 receptions. He also had 118 receiving yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Seahawks.
Thomas was in so much pain the morning after that he needed assistance rolling his bag to the luggage cart, per The Denver Post’s Mike Klis.
Thomas bounced back in a resounding fashion the following year. The 2014 NFL season was his best—he had career highs of 111 receptions and 1,694 receiving yards.
He racked up four Pro Bowl selections and two Second-Team All-Pro honors from 2012 to 2016.
With Thomas firing on all cylinders, the Broncos averaged almost 13 wins per year during that memorable time in franchise history—arguably the best since their back-to-back Super Bowl years with John Elway, Rod Smith, Bill Romanowski, Ed McCaffrey, and Terrell Davis 15 years earlier.
Here's something I just noticed.
At the Super Bowl 50 coin toss, featuring past MVPs from Bay Area teams including Joe Montana, the late, great Demaryius Thomas is the only player to go over and shake each of their hands afterward. pic.twitter.com/7q5RhnL3gj
— David Salituro (@DavidSalituro) February 15, 2022
Thomas also helped the Broncos win their third Vince Lombardi Trophy when they beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, 24-10.
Demaryius Thomas earned his first and only Super Bowl ring.
Yet, all these accolades paled in comparison to Thomas seeing his mother Katina Smith again after 15 long years.
President Barack Obama reduced the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders in the summer of 2016. It turned out Thomas’ mother was one of the fortunate ones.
Thomas remembered the times when she would make her own “Thomas” jerseys using a black sharpie on her gray prison uniform. She also watched him play in Super Bowl 50 on her prison television.
Finally, mother and son were on the verge of seeing each other again.
Just before Smith got out of jail, she told Thomas that the first thing she wanted to do was to get a Walkman, per The Players’ Tribune.
The Broncos traded Thomas and a seventh-round draft selection to the Houston Texans for two draft picks on October 30, 2018.
Demaryius Thomas’ almost nine-year tenure in the Mile High City had officially ended.
“It was tough man, it was tough,” Thomas told The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones on November 5, 2018.
Thomas’ mother flew from Georgia to Colorado and spent ten days with him at his Denver residence prior to the trade.
Smith helped him pack up his belongings. After Demaryius passed through the security checkpoint at the airport, she wept like a baby.
Nobody took the news of Thomas’ trade harder than Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s seven-year-old son Marshall.
When the Texans visited the Broncos’ Mile High Stadium barely a week after Thomas’ trade, Marshall Manning wore a Texans No. 87 jersey and hugged the wide receiver he had grown up idolizing.
Peyton Manning’s kids waited outside the Texans locker room to see Demaryius Thomas pic.twitter.com/3DRyJ9b2Gt
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) November 5, 2018
Marshall posed for a photo with Thomas with his twin sister Mosley.
The young Manning broke down minutes later knowing Thomas would fly back to Houston and probably never see him again. Peyton Manning consoled his son and assured him they could visit Thomas in Texas.
Regrettably, Demaryius Thomas didn’t excel in Texans blue and red.
He had just 275 receiving yards and two touchdowns in seven games for the Texans before a torn Achilles injury ended his 2018 NFL season.
Thomas signed with the New England Patriots the following season. Alas, they released him before the 2019 NFL season kicked off.
The Patriots eventually re-signed him but then traded him to the New York Jets. Thomas had 433 receiving yards and one touchdown in 11 games for Gang Green in 2019.
Demaryius Thomas didn’t play a single down in the COVID-stricken 2020 NFL season. He retired from the National Football League on June 28, 2021.
Demaryius Thomas’ career resume:
– 4x Pro Bowl
– Super Bowl 50 Champ
– 2x All-Pro 2nd Team
– 2nd most REC (13) in 1 Super Bowl
– 1 of 3 with 90+ REC/1,400 REC YDS/10+ REC TD in 3 straight seasons
— Pro Sports Outlook (@PSO_Sports) June 29, 2021
Thomas signed a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos to retire as a member of the organization in the summer of 2021.
“I’m going to retire and I’m going to retire a Denver Bronco,” Thomas said in a team social media video (via the New York Post’s David Lazar) in June 2021. “I’m done and I did well.”
Thomas finished his 10-year NFL career with 9,763 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns on 724 receptions.
His 655 career receptions currently rank third in Broncos team history behind Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe.
Denver Broncos president of football operations John Elway lauded Thomas for his work on and off the field during his nine-year tenure in the Mile High City.
“You could always count on D.T.,” Elway told NFL.com during Thomas’ retirement ceremony in 2019. “He belongs among the greatest players in Broncos history for what he’s meant to this organization on the field and out in the community.”
Post-Football Life and Death
Sadly, Demaryius Thomas died on December 9, 2021. He was just 16 days short of his 34th birthday. He retired from the National Football League less than six months earlier.
According to a report that NFL.com obtained from the Roswell, GA Police Department, authorities found Thomas dead inside his residence.
KOA Broncos Insider Benjamin Albright confirmed Thomas passed away due to complications from a car accident two years earlier.
Vashone Hakeem Jones, a former deputy with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, faced accusations of stealing guns, sports memorabilia, and other things from Thomas’ residence in Fulton County, GA on March 19, 2022.
Thomas’ mother reported the incident to authorities. She received hints from Thomas’ friends’ social media accounts which indicated several people were partying at the house.
Smith told police nobody was using the house at the time of the trespassing incident. Caretakers of the house changed its locks after Thomas’ memorial service in December 2021.
When local police arrived at the house to investigate, they saw an Uber driver who was about to deliver food. When they made their way inside, a 30-year-old man named Malcolm Daniels answered.
However, Daniels didn’t explain to the police why he was inside Thomas’ home. They eventually detained him and scoured the residence.
Authorities discovered a gun, marijuana, and two people including Jones sleeping in the master bedroom. Jones told police he had previously lived there and made routine checkups on the house every weekend.
Jones also claimed that Thomas had medical issues and he helped take care of him.
Among the stolen items police recovered included an ESPY award, football memorabilia and jerseys, several guns, clothes, shoes, a hyperbaric chamber, and several thousand dollars in cash.