When Demaryius Thomas dons his Broncos jersey and takes the field Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII, he won't be expecting to see his mother or grandmother in the stands. But he can be certain they're cheering him on, watching the game from a women's prison in Tallahassee, Fla.
His mom, Katina Smith, and grandmother, Minnie Pearl Thomas, were both arrested in March of 1999 in Georgia and convicted on charges related to the sale and distribution of cocaine.
"They busted into the house when we were getting ready to go to school," Thomas recalled in an interview with the New York Post in 2012. "The only thing I remember is my mother asking them if she could walk us to the bus for the last time."
After the arrest, Thomas, then just 11 years old, went to live with his aunt and uncle while his father was serving overseas in the army. The couple have been a major factor in his life ever since, reports USA Today -- from boyhood sports all the way to the Super Bowl as a star receiver.
Facing down adversity has been enough to keep Thomas focused on his goals and out of trouble. "I really didn't put myself around the wrong crowds," he recalled to The Denver Post shortly after the Broncos drafted him in 2010. He's also never done drugs, been suspended from school or been arrested, though he did get a speeding ticket once, shortly after turning 16.
It's a bittersweet accomplishment for Smith. She is proud of what her son has achieved in her absence, yet has never seen him play a game in person.
"I won't be there in the stands," Smith explained to ESPN in a recent interview. "I won't be able to look at his face, to kiss him, to tell him how proud I am."
Still, they find a way to talk before every game, and Thomas says it helps motivate him. "They drive me more to know that they're there and they're watching me,” Thomas told NBC Sports of his mother and grandmother. “I try to go out there and play my best because they're going to talk about it to the people in the jailhouse.”