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NFL: Denver receiver inspired by jailed mom, grandma


For most of his life Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas has only been able to see his mother and grandmother in prison, but they are inspiring him for Sunday's Super Bowl.

Katina Smith, his mother, and Minnie Pearl Thomas, his grandmother, will be watching from a federal minimum security prison in Tallahassee, Florida, when Thomas and his teammates face the Seattle Seahawks in suburban New York in the National Football League championship spectacle.

"That drives me more, to know that they are in there and they are watching me," Thomas said. "I try to go out there and play my best because they are going to talk about it to the people in the jailhouse."

Thomas, 26, was only 12 when his mother and grandmother were convicted of conspiring to possess crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Prior violations resulted in a life sentence for his grandmother. Smith is set to be released in 2017. Neither has ever seen him play in person.

Having them taken from his life at a young age has had an impact on how Thomas plays American football.

"You never know. One day you can be here and the next day you will be gone," he said. "So I take every day like it's my last, I play every football game like it's my last."

Thomas caught 92 passes for 1,430 yards and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns this season, the most popular target for Peyton Manning, who set NFL passing yardage and touchdowns records in 2013.

Before and after every game Thomas receives a call from his mother.

"I can never call them. They have to call me," he said. "My mom calls me before and after every game. My grandma tries to call me before every game."

It's a brief conversation.

"The most is probably three minutes," Thomas said.

But it's a meaningful talk, especially the one after the Broncos beat New England to qualify for Super Bowl 48.

"It was just happy," Thomas said. "My momma, she just told me, 'I told you you would make it.'

"We haven't really talked about it much but I talked to my grandma and she said the same thing. She got emotional and all. They get to watch every game that comes on TV there."

And they use tape to turn their shirts into homemade jerseys with Thomas' number, 88.

"They have all got the T-shirts," he said. "All of the ladies have the T-shirts and watch me, so that's special."

Thomas, whose father was a US Army soldier in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait when his mother went to prison, was brought up by an aunt and uncle in rural Georgia.

"I was raised around great people," Thomas said.

He was also told not to trash-talk, unlike the Seattle defender who will guard him Sunday, Richard Sherman, who topped the NFL this season with eight interceptions on a defense that led the NFL in shutting down opponents.

"I don't do that. I just play football," Thomas said. "I'm going to go out and try to make some plays so I don't have anybody coming up to me saying I got shut down by Sherman."