The memory and legacy of Georgia Tech star Demaryius Thomas will live on in a scholarship endowed by the charitable organization founded by Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, Thomas’ teammate with the Denver Broncos. Tech made the announcement Wednesday of an endowment that will award need-based scholarships to incoming freshmen from Laurens County, where Thomas was born and raised, or surrounding areas.
Thomas, who earned All-American status and then made four Pro Bowls in 10 NFL seasons, died Dec. 9 at his home in Roswell at the age of 33. Thomas’ death, just months after he had retired from the NFL, came as a shock to teammates, coaches and fans from Tech and the NFL.
Scholarships, endowed by the PeyBack Foundation led by Manning and his wife, Ashley, can be full or partial grants. They will follow recipients through graduation at Tech provided they remain in good academic standing.
Manning and Thomas were teammates from 2012-15.
“Demaryius Thomas was an incredibly talented and unselfish teammate, but more importantly, he was a special person and friend,” Manning said in a statement. “My family and I miss him dearly, and we wanted to honor D.T.’s memory by partnering the PeyBack Foundation with Georgia Tech to establish the Demaryius A. Thomas Scholarship Endowment.
“An important part of Demaryius’ legacy was the way he inspired the next generation to pursue their dreams with the same perseverance and determination that defined him. Through this scholarship to Georgia Tech, Demaryius will have a lasting impact on deserving youth from his hometown area who can follow in his footsteps and accomplish great things in life.”
“Demaryius Thomas was an incredibly talented and unselfish teammate, but more importantly, he was a special person and friend."
A program that offers a helping hand to young people from his home area to attend the school that launched his career is a most fitting tribute. Thomas, who served the Denver community through his involvement with the Boys and Girls Club, gravitated to children. Further, Laurens County was dear to Thomas, who regularly visited family and friends there throughout his NFL career. He held a football camp at West Laurens High and, according to a business partner, was intending to provide financial-literacy education for students at the high school. Perhaps like some of the students that the scholarship program will aid, Thomas came from extremely humble means.
Laurens County Schools athletic director Jeff Clayton, who coached Thomas at West Laurens High, called the endowment another testimony for “how many lives he has touched and continues to touch, even in his passing. Obviously, very thankful to the Peyton Manning family.”
NFL stardom and millions of dollars had not changed Thomas, according to Clayton.
“Not a bit,” Clayton said in December after Thomas’ death. “Would sign autographs, take pictures and just nonstop. He was just a real giving kid, and I still considered him a kid when he was an adult. He never really changed his disposition.”
Tech announced that it will additionally honor Thomas this season with an on-field memorial featuring his Yellow Jackets jersey number (No. 8) at Bobby Dodd Stadium and with players wearing No. 8 decals on their helmets.
Further, the athletic department has designated Aug. 8 (8/8) as Demaryius Thomas Day and will annually commemorate the day by participating in a community-service event with a youth-oriented organization and inviting a former teammate, friend or family member of Thomas’ to speak with the football team.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com