Former Illinois defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree has died at 23 years old, the school announced Friday. A standout player for the Illini from 2017 to 2018, Roundtree's college career was cut short after he suffered a severe spinal injury in May 2019 while swimming near his home of Largo, Florida. He had been rehabbing his injury in Tampa since then.
"All of us with Illinois Athletics are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Bobby Roundtree," Illinois athletics 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.
"In the face of incredible adversity, he demonstrated he was, and always will remain, a true champion. 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."
Despite his injury, Roundtree remained optimistic and became a source of inspiration to the program during his rehab.
"I learned that I'm strong," Roundtree told reporters in 2020, per 247Sports. "I probably wouldn't think I'd be able to do this, but here I am doing it. It taught me also to always have a back-up plan. I was just thinking about the NFL, but I got hurt. One door closes and more open. It taught me I'm a strong young man. I've still got goals to reach, and I'll reach them."
Roundtree was one of Illinois' best players during his freshman and sophomore seasons. During that two-year span, he started 20 of 24 games on the defensive line, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2018. Roundtree had 66 tackles in 2018 and led the Illini in both sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (12.5).