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Honoring Demaryius Thomas

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ACC Championship - Clemson v Georgia Tech Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

Last night Georgia Tech fans everywhere were met with sorrowful news. Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas passed away at the age of 33. He passed away in his home due to health complications from a seizure.

Football - NCAA - Virginia vs. Georgia Tech Photo by Todd Kirkland /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Demaryius “Bay Bay” Thomas was an important figure to Georgia Tech and to football at large. Thomas came from West Laurens High School to Georgia Tech as a Wide Receiver in 2006 but after staying as a redshirt that year his career really began in 2007 where he caught 35 receptions for 558 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets v Clemson Tigers Photo by Rex Brown/Getty Images

In 2008 Paul Johnson began coaching the Yellow Jackets and some worried this might decrease Bay Bay’s receiving yards. Demaryius proved it didn’t matter what system he was in, DT could still make an impact. Demaryius finished 2008 with 627 receiving yards, and upped that number to 1,154 and 8 touchdowns in 2009. When asked by a reporter if Demaryius was concerned about getting less stats in the Veer system run by Paul Johnson, Demaryius responded “Sometimes I think about [not getting many passes], but most of the time I just want to win.”

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Georgia at Georgia Tech Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Demaryius and the team did a lot of winning together, achieving an ACC championship victory in 2009. Thomas finished 2009 with All-ACC honors before heading to the draft where he was listed as one of the top two receivers beside Dez Bryant.

DENVER BRONCOS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In the pros Demaryius continued to show just how good he was on the field. Thomas was drafted by the Denver Broncos and won a Super Bowl there in 2015. He also set many records with the Broncos, including the most season receiving yards in 2014 with 1,619 yards. Thomas would go on to play with two more teams in the Houston Texans and the New York Jets. While Demaryius had many memorable moments, fans of the Broncos may specifically remember his OT reception from Tim Tebow to win against the Steelers in 2012. Thomas ended his career with a total of 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns.

Broncos Super Bowl 50 victory parade and rally in downtown Denver, Colorado Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

I didn’t know DT personally, but when I was at Georgia Tech I loved how much fun it looked like all the other players on the team had just being on the field with him. Stories abound about his big heart and kindness. He had deep faith in Christianity and did his best to remain involved in the community he grew up in during and following his professional career. He was so involved, in fact, that the Dublin, Georgia city council named July 15th Demaryius Thomas day in his honor.

Denver Broncos VS Arizona Cardinals, preseason game 4 Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Thomas was both an incredible player, and an incredible person. Watching him play always made me feel lighter, made me feel like you can make the impossible possible if you work hard enough. If he made you feel something similar, feel free to share your story in the comments below.

While I did not know him personally, his absence from the world will leave the world will leave a hole that cannot be filled. DT I appreciate all you did for Georgia Tech, the NFL, and everyone around you on a day to day basis... You will be greatly missed. Rest in Peace.

The Legacy Center Grand Opening Weekend

Robert Binion: I started at GT as an undergrad in 2005, and Bay Bay arrived on campus my second fall. He was hard to miss - in both stature and in joy. His smile lit up rooms and beamed across campus. He strolled around full of lightness and kindness. We weren’t friends in a traditional sense of the word, but I was around DT socially on a number of occasions, and he left an indelible mark on every situation he entered. He was quiet but exuded a welcoming, gracious spirit. He was perhaps the most well-known athlete on campus by the end of his time at GT, but he was never too self-important to stop and share a quick laugh, a handshake, a brief chat about life. Bay Bay brightened up the Flats, and I’ll be forever glad that I had some overlapping years on campus with him.

There’s two ways I will always remember him: his personal courage, and his playmaking genius.

I didn’t know the fullness of DT’s story while he was at Tech. I knew he was from Dublin, a place I had spent a good amount of time with friends, but I had no idea of just what his childhood and teenage years were like. Lindsay Jones wrote a marvelous profile of Thomas after he was drafted by the Broncos in 2010, as she was able to follow him to a Women’s Correctional Facility in Tallahassee, FL that housed both his mother and grandmother.

“I know it has been hard for him. He’s the one who holds everything inside,” Smith (his mother) said in an interview at the prison three days later. “But at the same time, it has given him the strength to go on and be better than the example I set for him.”

But the story had another chapter still to come. As Bay Bay’s career reached new heights with the Broncos in 2015, new horizons were coming for his family as well. In July of 2015, President Obama included Thomas’s mother Katina Smith in a group of 41 people who would have their prison sentences commuted. In November of that year she was released, and Demaryius Thomas penned this moving personal essay. It’s not simple to process so much pain, longing, and hurt in one’s life. But Bay Bay was able to find courage and perseverance because he knew he was loved.

Recently, I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions about my mother. It’s a little bit overwhelming. Her story is complicated. But this is what I want you to know about my mamma: She loved me. That’s the most important thing in the world.

In January of 2016, she would get to see him play football for the first time in his life, and shortly after, his grandmother Minnie Thomas had her sentence commuted as well. The peak of Thomas’s professional football career coincided with the greatest relational restoration he had ever known. Seeing from afar the depths of sorrow and then joy he experienced through that process made me appreciate his legacy that much more. He was a warrior, off the field and on.

He was a tremendous man of character but also a magnificent wide receiver. Yes, he blocked his tail off as GT ran the ball 80% of the time during his career. But he made one explosive play after another. I’ll never forget his touchdown on the fake field goal play against Clemson in 2009, his massive score against FSU in the storm game, his devastating stiff-arm against the Dawgs, or his magical 70 yard score in the ACC title game.

A man of great courage and joy in his personal life and relationships was also a devastating weapon who could change any game at any time. That was Bay Bay. May we honor him for the legacy he left on the field, and more importantly, honor him by investing where he invested: helping kids going through things like he did.

When he penned that essay in 2015, he directed contributions towards imME.org’s November Campaign and the orphans of the world for Orphan Awareness Month. We can honor his legacy by continuing that work in his absence.