He had a dream, 11-year-old Demaryius Thomas remembers telling his momma. A bad dream.
Bad things were going on at home, he told her. Though he was only in sixth grade, young Demaryius knew trouble when he saw it, smelled it and watched the procession of strangers coming to buy it at the family front door.
Somebody, Demaryius warned his mother, Katina Smith, was going to go to jail.
Barely a month later, Demaryius Thomas’ bad dream came true.
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He remembers the loud boom that the police made, announcing their arrival. He remembers them bursting through the front door. He remembers looking into his momma’s bedroom and seeing her kneeling on the bed, with her hands handcuffed behind her back.
It was a school day, and Katina Smith asked the police if she could at least walk her three children to the school bus one last time. She hugged them, told them she loved them, and then watched as the school bus drove away.
Demaryius Thomas, now 26 years old, has had to retell that heart-tugging story over and over this Super Bowl week.
“I’ve been talking about it a lot,” he said again Wednesday. “I’m comfortable enough now to talk about it.
“But it’s kind of tough. I think about it all the time. I get emotional.”
On that morning in 1999, the police in Montrose, Ga., arrested not only Thomas’ mother, but also his grandmother, Minnie Pearl Thomas. They were charged with conspiracy to possess, manufacture and distribute crack cocaine.
The court offered Smith a reduced sentence — eight years max — if she would testify against her mother. She refused and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Demaryius’ grandmother — “She was like the head of the whole thing,” he said — was sentenced to life.
And now it’s the momma’s and grandmother’s turns to dream. It’s Sunday, the Super Bowl XLVIII crowd is on its feet, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is playing football for the Denver Broncos.
A national high school publication reported that one in 90,000 American males end up playing in the NFL. Multiply those odds by the few who end up playing in a Super Bowl.
Now, multiply those long odds by the miracle that someone could get to the big game after seeing his mother and grandmother both sent to prison.
That’s the Demaryius Thomas story.
“I’m not going to say it’s a drug message, but it has one,” Thomas said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to know your surroundings and be aware of what’s going on around you.
“You’ve got to realize that you can’t be around stuff like that, because you see what happened to my family.”
After his mother’s arrest, young Thomas was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, Shirley and James Brown. The latter became pastor of Montrose’s Macedonia Baptist Church. The firm hands of Shirley and Reverend Brown turned around Demaryius’ life.
He went on to earn a football scholarship to Georgia Tech. The Broncos made Thomas the 22nd player selected in the 2010 NFL Draft.
The 2013 season was his best. He earned a second consecutive Pro Bowl spot while catching 14 touchdown passes (second most in the NFL) and gaining 1,430 receiving yards.
Thomas’ mother and grandmother will be watching Sunday when he plays against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. They will be watching on TV with other inmates at a minimum security prison in Tallahassee, Fla., where the mother and daughter share the same cell.
Demaryius expects to speak with his mother by phone Sunday morning. They talk often on game days, he said.
Katina Smith tells her son to pray with her. She prays that he plays well, that he remains in good health, and that he doesn’t get overly upset with himself if he makes a mistake.
Life is filled with mistakes, Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos agreed Wednesday.
Overcoming them has been his story.