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Demaryius Thomas is playing for more than his next contract

The life and times of Demaryius Thomas: ESPN's column on Demaryius is a fantastic read.

Jared Wickerham

Stop. Go read this.

ESPN's Eli Saslow chronicles the life of Demaryius Thomas, from 11-year-old son of a to-be-convicted drug-dealer to pro football wide receiver. Saslow discusses how Thomas is on the cusp of a $12-million per year contract that the Denver Broncos receiver hopes will reunite his family.

The story begins with the harrowing tale of the morning that changed Thomas' life.

The officers placed (Demaryius' mother Katina) Smith under arrest just as the school bus turned up the dirt driveway toward the house. Thomas begged to stay home from his junior high school -- to go hide again in his bedroom -- but his mother wouldn't let him. Instead, she asked the officers for a favor: Could she walk her son to the school bus, like she did every morning? "Please, you don't have to do that," Thomas said, trying to dissuade her, but by then he was already being led down the driveway. His mother walked next to him, her hands cuffed behind her back, as six officers trailed behind.

Saslow and Thomas detail the following months, where Thomas' mother refused to accept a plea deal that would have drastically reduced her sentence. That would have given her more years with her children. But she didn't do it, because it would have required she testify against her mother.

Demaryuis Thomas 'Long Way Home'

Brad Harris/ESPN The Magazine

Thomas, understandably, was furious at his mother for not doing so. It wasn't until his young adulthood, on a football scholarship at Georgia, that he began to forgive.

"OK. Let's try to move past it," Thomas said, because even if the answer didn't satisfy him, at least now he understood. His mother had acted out of responsibility, out of love, and now it was his turn to do the same. He didn't have to entirely forgive her choice, but he felt it was his responsibility as a son to forgive her. They played card games for a few hours. They talked about cars and girls and football until the visitation time ended. Thomas said goodbye and reached out to hold Smith's hand. It was a small gesture, but it was also the only physical contact the prison allowed. "I love you," he said.

Now, Thomas is on the brink of becoming one of the highest-paid wide receivers in NFL history. He's broken Broncos franchise records. He's broken a Super Bowl record. He caught Manning's record-breaking 509th touchdown. But his dreams focus on setting up his family for a permanent reunion as his mother is scheduled to be released in 2017.

He would earn the huge contract and buy a plot of land just outside Atlanta, where they could build one house or maybe even two. A family compound, he called it, explaining that he planned to get everyone back together. His mom would move in, and his dad too, since Thomas' parents had been talking again lately over the phone. They both wanted to live around Atlanta. "I'm not married, so it's not like it's something I can't do," said his father, who is still in the military. Then Thomas explained that his youngest sister would move in after graduating from college; and his other sister, a prison guard in Georgia, would come with her children; and Thomas himself would live there during the offseason; and grandparents and cousins would all be free to come and go. He wanted a place out in the country, with a long gravel driveway and a big field out back where the children could run -- a place not so different from the acreage of his childhood.

As one MHR staffer put it, Saslow's piece is "a must-read story, in my opinion, for anyone who is a fan of the Broncos, D.T., or humanity." Check it out.

Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas dreams of reuniting estranged family [ESPN]