Former NFL wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was found dead in his Roswell, Georgia, home on Thursday evening, a spokesperson for the city’s police department confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. He was 33 years old.
“Preliminary information is that his death stems from a medical issue, and our investigators currently have no reason to believe otherwise,” the police spokesperson, Tim Lupo, wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports early Friday morning.
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas spent the bulk of his career with the Denver Broncos, where he caught 665 passes and was part of the team that won Super Bowl 50. He went on to have brief stints with the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and New York Jets before announcing his retirement earlier this year.
“I’m just happy to say I’m done, and it did me well,” Thomas said in a video announcement.
News of Thomas’ death sent shockwaves throughout the NFL community late Thursday, leaving those who knew in both disbelief and grief.
“Honored to have known you brutha,” former Broncos running back Terrell Davis wrote on Twitter.
“Heartbroken! Love ya DT!” added ex-teammate Wes Welker.
“I’m at a total loss,” wrote Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who coached Thomas for one season. “I’m sick…. I’m crying. I’m just…. I don’t know.”
Jeff Clayton, the athletic director who oversees Thomas’ high school, told USA TODAY Sports in an email: “To say we are all heartbroken is an understatement.”
Thomas was born on Christmas Day in 1987 and grew up in Montrose, Georgia, a rural community about two hours outside of Atlanta. “We had pea fields, cornfields,” he told The Denver Post in 2012. “Planting tomatoes, collard greens.”
He went on to star at West Laurens High School before enrolling at Georgia Tech, where he became an unusually dominant force in the Yellow Jackets’ run-heavy, triple-option offense. During his final season with the program, in 2009, Thomas accounted for nearly 60% of the team’s receptions en route to first-team all-conference honors.
The Broncos selected Thomas with the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft the following spring, and he quickly became both the team’s No. 1 receiver and one of the best in the league. Known for both his physicality and athleticism, he amassed at least 80 catches and 900 receiving yards in six consecutive seasons, while also playing through a number of injuries.
“Demaryius’ remarkable consistency and production were instrumental in our offense setting historic records and our team winning a lot of games, including two AFC championships and Super Bowl 50,” Broncos president of football operations John Elway said earlier this year, after Thomas retired.
“Equally as impressive as his many catches, big plays and touchdowns was the fact he didn’t miss a game for nearly seven years in a row,” he continued. “You could always count on D.T. He belongs among the greatest players in Broncos history for what he’s meant to this organization on the field and out in the community.”
Thomas reached those heights while also advocating on behalf of his mother and grandmother, who served extensive prison time after being arrested on non-violent drug charges when Thomas was 11. His mother’s 20-year sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2015, and his grandmother’s life sentence was cut short the following year.
“I’ve been able to get my mom and grandma out of prison – I don’t know if football did it, but winning the Super Bowl and meeting Obama after that situation, they both kind of got out, which I was thankful for,” Thomas told DenverBroncos.com earlier this year.
“But football has done a lot. (I’ve) been able to take care of myself and a lot of (other) people.”
Contributing: Lindsay H. Jones; The Associated Press
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.