DENVER -- We don’t usually hear a lot from Broncos wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas. He is described as humble and shy, but there is one topic he does open up about.
Thomas was just 12 when his mother, Katina Smith, and his grandmother Minnie Pearl, were both sent to prison for selling drugs when he was growing up in Georgia. They have never seen him play football in person.
“You know when they went to prison, it was difficult,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ mother and grandmother spoke to FOX 31 Denver’s Deborah Takahara in an exclusive interview over the phone from behind bars at the minimum security federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida.
“For myself, I still can't believe it. I am still trying to grasp the idea that I have a son playing in the NFL. And even when I watch him on TV, I am still amazed I am watching my son play in the NFL,” Smith said.
It has been something Thomas has had to struggle with since he was a boy.
“I didn’t even talk to my mom or grandma until my junior or senior year. I couldn’t call them. I wasn’t driving, so I couldn’t go see them,” Thomas said.
“I was not actually selling drugs. The D.A. wanted me to testify against my mother and said if I didn't testify against my mother, I'd get charged with the whole conspiracy,” his mother told FOX 31.
It has been difficult for Thomas’ grandmother as well.
“It’s very difficult, I want to be out with my grand kids and with Demaryius. I want to get up and cheer for him,” Pearl said.
Thomas bounced from house to house, and finally ended up with his Aunt Shirley and Uncle James. They taught him to work hard and to follow his dreams.
“You know to have a kind of normal life with us not being there, I know it was hard on Demaryius and his sisters, but I am very grateful from the bottom of my heart he had someone there to steer him and his sisters in the right direction,” his mother said.
Thomas decided to stay away from drugs and lead a clean life.
“I told myself if I say something, I will stick to it,” Thomas said.
The wide receiver stayed positive, worked hard, and received a full scholarship to college and was eventually drafted.
“I am just blessed,” Thomas said.
“I think his main motivation was seeing what it did to me, and my mother,” Smith said. “Even though it was a bad situation, he still found some good in it: to stay focused.”
His relatives said they always knew he’d grow up to be a star athlete. Only they thought he’d be playing professional basketball. Thomas said he didn’t even play football until the 10th grade.
“Once I started, I got better and better at it,” he said.
Minnie and Katina are his biggest supporters, and they are still able watch most of his football games from Florida.
“Me, my mother and some of the other ladies in the unit that I’m with watch the game together,” Smith said. “I sit in the TV room writing down all the stats, how many touchdowns, how many catches, how many yards, if he did anything spectacular.”
Demaryius said his family means the world to him. He writes his mom and grandma’s name on the tape around his wrists before each game.
“I try to see them on my bye weeks, every time I go home. I take my sisters, and they give me a call before and after every game,” Thomas said.
“It’s funny, they have a group of girls and they watch the games together. They make number 88 shirts. Last time I went there, I had to take pictures with every woman that was there," he said.
Demaryius’ mom will get out of prison on Christmas day of 2016. The first thing she wants to do, of course, is to see her son play in the NFL. His grandmother still has 20 years to serve.
“It's a blessing, this could’ve been a different situation, this could've played out differently, him not loving me, or him not forgiving me,” Smith said.
Tune into FOX 31 Denver news at 9 p.m. Saturday to watch the exclusive interview.