DUBLIN, Ga. — A Central Georgia community is mourning a football great Friday.
Demaryius Thomas died Thursday night in Roswell. He was known for the love and light that he brought to his hometown.
The talent Thomas had on the field was undeniable, but one of the things that people are remembering him for most was his kindness and his smile.
His former coach and one of his former teachers say his character off the field outshines any play he'd ever made.
"If you give him just a minute and let him smile, he'll just warm the room, he'll melt the room. His smile would literally melt the room, and I'm tearing up now thinking about it, because it would -- it would literally melt the room," Demaryius Thomas' former coach Dwayne Gibson said about the former player.
To the world, he was known as the great athlete Demaryius Thomas, but to folks in Laurens County and West Laurens High School, he was known as "Bay-Bay.“ Gibson, his former mentor and coach, says his kindness will be missed.
"He was going to be the one that would walk in and the children with disabilities and struggles, he was going to gravitate to them and start playing with them. That was Bay-Bay, and, man, the world needs more of that," he said.
Gibson says Thomas' backstory made him that much more special. When Thomas was 11, police arrested his mother and grandmother on drug charges, splitting him and his sister up once their mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but Dewana Kemp, now principal of West Laurens High School, says you couldn't tell.
"It's what we've always known, what he's gone through, but you wouldn't know it because of the person he was. He smiled through it, he pushed forward," she said.
She says he was like family, frequently seeing him with her own children, one of them a former teammate.
"Bay-Bay was like the little brother to them, and I had twins who were 3 or 4, and he was always fun-loving, so he'd pick them up and throw them over his shoulders, and he was just the fun Bay-Bay,” she said.
For Gibson, like others that knew him, he's holding tight to the love and one of his favorite memories of Bay-Bay.
"He's sitting there and he'd never been to Carrabba’s. I said, 'Bay-Bay, I want you to try calamari,' because they got some bustin' calamari. I said, 'I want you to try it,' and Bay-Bay is sitting there looking at the menu and Coach Howell says, 'What you gonna order?' and he says, 'Chicken strips,' and he said, 'You country joker, you don't come to Carrabba’s and order chicken strips!' and that one rings to me because he owed me a plate -- he said he was going to pay me some calamari," Gibson said.
Authorities in Roswell have not announced Thomas' cause of death. Family members said he suffered from seizures for more than a year and that he likely died from one.