Former Illinois defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree dies at 23

·2 min read

Former Illinois defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree has died. He was 23.

Illinois announced Roundtree's death on Friday afternoon. Roundtree was paralyzed in a 2019 swimming accident ahead of his third season with the team. 

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Roundtree suffered a spinal cord injury in May of 2019 after he jumped off a boat and into the intracoastal waterway while swimming with others near his home in Largo, Florida. Shortly after his accident, then-Illinois coach Lovie Smith said that Roundtree was "exactly what you want in a student-athlete."

As Roundtree went through his grueling rehabilitation process, he would routinely share updates of his progress on social media. Roundtree last posted a video of his rehab on July 12. 

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Roundtree detailed his journey in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in November. Roundtree had strength in his arms but didn't have full use of his hands and fingers after the accident. He told the newspaper that he wanted to be fully independent again and that the COVID-19 pandemic had kept him more isolated than he wanted. 

He also told the paper that he felt a bit "left out" during the 2020 football season and was dealing with loneliness since the accident happened. He was striving to be a part of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis as he fought to walk again. 

“I guess I feel kind of left out a lot,” he says. “When I was up and moving, playing football, everyone was around me, everybody loved me. Then something like this happened. A lot of guys — friends, coaches —they don’t reach out as much. Some of them say they don’t know what to say when they reach out to me. I tell them I understand.

“I just kind of keep it in. I tell my mom I don’t understand why some of them don’t reach out to me more. She says, ‘You’ve got to keep pushing. You can’t be upset. Just keep pushing.’ ”

Roundtree played in 24 games in two seasons with Illinois and was one of the team’s best defensive players. He had 12.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his career and totaled 117 total tackles.

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