CHAMPAIGN — Former Illinois defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree died Friday, the team announced via a press release. He was 23 years old. The cause of his death was not disclosed.
Roundtree was a budding star for the Illini during the 2017 and 2018 seasons and showed he had the potential to someday even play in the NFL. However, the 6-foot-5 pass rusher suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a boating and swimming accident in Tampa Bay, Florida, on May 18, 2019. The accident occurred near Roundtree's hometown of Largo, Florida, and left him as an incomplete quadriplegic, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He was not able to walk on his own after the accident, and his football career was abruptly ended.
“All of us with Illinois Athletics are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Bobby Roundtree,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “From his first day on campus, Bobby was a leader. His work ethic, competitive fire, and drive for excellence set him apart. Following his tragic accident, those same qualities allowed him to tackle his new challenges with the same vigor and determination that we had seen on the football field. In so doing, he continued to bring light and inspiration to the lives of those around him — and, in fact, to so many people who had never had the pleasure of meeting him."
Roundtree recorded 116 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections and two forced fumbles in 24 games with the Illini under former coach Lovie Smith. He was named to the BTN.com All-Freshman Team in 2017 and was selected as All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media in 2018.
Roundtree had been active on social media throughout his rehab, often sharing videos of his progress that were coupled with uplifting messages. His most recent tweet was posted Thursday at 8:35 p.m. CT.
Stay humble and keep ELEVATING🚀— Bobby Roundtree (@BobbyRoundtr97) July 16, 2021
"Stay humble and keep ELEVATING," Roundtree wrote.
Last month, the Illinois football team presented Roundtree with its annual Bruce Capel Award for Courage to honor his resilient mindset.
“In the face of incredible adversity, he demonstrated he was, and always will remain, a true champion," Whitman said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will support them, and our players, coaches, and staff who knew him well, as we struggle to understand this terrible news and, ultimately, look to celebrate the remarkable young leader we have lost.”
After his career-ending injury, Roundtree returned to Champaign in November 2019 to watch his former teammates host Northwestern.
Several of those same former teammates shared sincere messages via social media Friday, including fifth-year senior defensive lineman Jamal Woods.
"I really just lost my best friend," Woods initially tweeted.
I really just lost my best friend 😢💔— Jamal “Bobo” Woods (@jamal4425) July 16, 2021
Woods followed up that tweet by tweeting a photo of him and Roundtree competing together at Memorial Stadium in their orange Illini uniforms. The caption read: "I love you brother #97strong will never disappear. I know you up there (in Heaven) jumping and walking around like never before."
Roundtree wore No. 97 and #97Strong became a rallying cry for him after his accident.
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