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 US federal minimum-security prison in Tallahassee, Florida, when Thomas and his teammates face the Seattle Seahawks in suburban New York in the NFL 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.
"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. He is the most popular target for Peyton Manning, who set NFL passing yardage and touchdown records last year.
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 is a brief conversation.
"The most is probably three minutes," Thomas said.
But it is a meaningful talk, especially the one after the Broncos beat New England to qualify for Super Bowl 48.
"It was just happy. My momma, she just told me, 'I told you you would make it'," Thomas said.
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.Topics: NFL Demaryius Thomas Denver Broncos Jail Mother Crack Cocaine More on this: