This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Editor’s Note: Each month a MHS personality goes one-on-one with one of the biggest names in Colorado sports. This month, as part of our ‘Tribute to Moms,’ Vanessa Hughes sat down with Broncos linebacker Shane Ray and his mom, Sebrina Johnson.

Shane Ray: My mom and I talk on the phone every other day. She’s just starting to use FaceTime. She can’t handle the texting, she’s already emotional. If I text her, she doesn’t like it.

Sebrina Johnson: Every time we go out for dinner, people look at me and ask is that your boyfriend? He took me to this really nice restaurant for my birthday and the waitress came over and she’s like, ‘Oh, is this a special time?’ And Shane’s looking at her [thinking], ‘That is my mother!’ Of course, I love it every time it happens. I said, ‘Would you rather have me look old and decrepit and he’s like, ‘Yes.’

SJ: I can’t wait until he finishes his degree. He promised me he would. He only has twelve hours left. His degree is in business. He said, ‘Mom, I just need a year to get in the league and get set and then I promise I’ll do it.’ I’m giving him at least two years and after that I’m going to start bothering him.

SR: My mom is my mom, but she’s my best friend. She’s the person, regardless of what I go through, I’m able to talk to her and express my feelings. We keep each other going.

SJ: When you’re raising a boy, especially an African-American boy, you can’t be afraid to talk to them about everything that’s going on in his life. His dad wasn’t there, so I was trying to be a good representative to him. We would talk about girls, sex, everything. I had to let him know that he could trust me and that no matter what happens, I’m always going to be there for him and love him.

We keep each other going. Even when he was younger, and I was married for a short time and I got divorced, it was really difficult. He supported me so much. He would say, ‘Mom, it’s you and me. Don’t cry. We can do this, we’re gonna make it, it’s gonna be okay.’ He would tell me that like at [age] 14. I cherish it.

SR: When I was going to high school, she had to work two jobs so she could pay for my tuition – because the schools where I lived were unaccredited. When I was in middle school, she had to send me to live with a relative so I could go to school, so I had to be away from my mom then. There were a lot of situations like that that she had to endure to make sure I stayed on the right path.

When you’re an only child, and you’re [raised in] a single-parent household, you experience so many good moments with that parent.

SJ: As a young mother, you make mistakes. There’s no book for this thing. I told him as many times as I could that he was my greatest accomplishment.

I was always afraid that I wasn’t the best mother; I would just cry and just pray. It was difficult not having his dad in his life. When I was about to graduate, I had to drop out of school and then go back and finish. I had him on my hip as I graduated at University of Kansas.

I did what I think every mother should do for their child that they love. I want him to be a good man, I want him to be a good provider and father for his children. I didn’t want him to be a sieve on society. I wanted him to be someone who gave. Now, he’s an adult and he’s achieved what he’s achieved, I can sit back and say every tear, everything was worth it.

SR: I just thank my mom for all the sacrifices that she made. I know I could never repay her for everything she did, but I always let her know that I love her and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about what she did for me and how it helped me become a better and stronger person.

SJ: Everyone knows he got in trouble three days before the draft. There was a media flurry. It hurt me to read these things about my son. Yes, he made a stupid mistake. However, he had never been in trouble before. It negated who he was and all the good things he had accomplished. He wasn’t arrested; he got a citation. It was hard for Shane. He wants to make people proud of him. That really hurt him. He had to pay the piper and stand up and deal with the repercussions of his actions.

God has a plan even though we think we have the plan. He always knows what we’re supposed to do. I think it was divine. Shane wasn’t supposed to be in all those other places. He was supposed to be in Denver.

SR: To this day, I’m a grown man, but I’m her baby.

SJ: I call him a ‘man-baby’ because he’s the independent man but he’s still the baby.

Every time I visit, I cook for him. I make sure he has food in the refrigerator and his house is stocked with toiletries. He just kind of expects it and I said, ‘You have to understand, this stuff doesn’t just happen.’ You just don’t wake up and there is food in the refrigerator and toilet paper and laundry detergent. People have to go to the store. You’re just lucky you have me to come and help you out.

SR: She’s like, ‘you’re a big kid, I can’t feed you all the time, so you gotta learn to cook.’

SJ: When I look at him, I don’t see the man, I see my little 4-year-old who used to love and kiss his momma all the time.

When he was a little boy, he used to cuddle with me. I’d put him to bed and I’d wake up and he’d be in my bed. He would just lie next to me and hug on me and kiss my face and say, ‘I love you mom.’ He did that up until he was 16.

SR: When I started playing football, she was like, ‘Alright, this is what you want to do? I got your back.’ She’s just a really special woman in that way.

SJ: [Shane winning the Super Bowl] was a like a black-and-white film was going in my head; little league, high school, college. That moment, I got emotional. I was like, ‘He’s made it, he is here.’

SR: She’s a really good artist. She can draw, she can paint, she’s multi-talented. I have a few paintings at my house that she did back when she was in college. They were so good, I told her I wanted them framed and I took them from her.

She was an athlete. All seasons she was in sports. She played basketball, she had scholarships for volleyball, she ran track, she was a cheerleader, so my mom did it all.

SJ: Shane was never the kid that was supposed to make it. Shane was never talented. He was a little chunky kid. He couldn’t run. He was slow. Shane made a decision [that he] wanted to lose weight, work hard and wanted to play football. He was never the kid that had the natural talent. He always had to work hard at it.

SR: One of the best memories I had with my mom was when I broke the sack record at Missouri. When the game was over, my mom was in the stands crying. I went to the stands and she gave me a hug and was crying. She never missed any of my college games.

SJ: Shane is a great caregiver. I brought my dad to live with me when Shane was 15. He was a double amputee and a diabetic. I had to learn to give him shots. I had to bathe him, change his bed while he was in it. My son helped me; he gave grandpa his shots, he emptied his bedpan, he cleaned him, he did all of that and helped me with my dad for two years.

Dad passed away Shane’s freshman year at Mizzou. He passed away June 1 and I had to take Shane to Mizzou the week after. When my dad died, Shane had my father’s World War II portrait tattooed on his chest.

I want him to not just play football. I want him to give back. I want him to show some kid that you can work hard and be whatever you want to be.

Shane is my greatest accomplishment. I have two Master’s degrees, I graduated from the University of Kansas and I was the first one to graduate, but none of that means anything. I gave him everything that was good in me. To see it come back, I can’t explain the feeling of that.

SR: My mom promised me that she would do whatever she had to do to make sure I would be successful – and she didn’t fall short.