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Former Illini standout Bobby Roundtree dies at age 23

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Roundtree’s football career was put on hold in 2019.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Illinois at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A somber day for Illini nation.

More than two years after his football career was put on hold due to a freak swimming accident, former Illini star defensive end Bobby Roundtree has died.

Roundtree was 23 years old.

Roundtree’s final message on his Twitter page came on Thursday. When he was forced to eventually head home to Florida, his way of staying in touch with Illini nation came via social media. Every week, Roundtree would share videos from his rehab sessions, where he was getting stronger and stronger each time.

“There are no words to adequately express the sadness in my heart,” said Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman in a statement. “In the face of unspeakable adversity and hardship, Bobby brought life and optimism to every room he entered. He was a warrior, a leader, and an inspiration to all. I will never forget him. Love you, 97.”

His first visit back in Champaign came for Senior Day in 2019. While Roundtree would have only been a junior, he spoke to the team in the locker room.

Many of the Illini that season were playing with heavy hearts for Roundtree, who would have likely been drafted in the first three rounds of the 2020 Draft.

“It’s impossible to fill Bobby Roundtree’s shoes,” Wole Betiku said in October 2019. “I mean the energy he brought, how passionate he played, you know he’s a player we would love to have here right now and we all miss him everyday... So I mean it’s impossible to replace Bobby Roundtree, but all we can do is just play for him and play with the same type of effort he played with when he was here.”

Nearing the one-year anniversary of his accident, Roundtree spoke to Illini media and reporters in May 2020.

During the Zoom session, he was asked by one reporter, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“I see myself walking again,” he replied.

A three-star recruit out of Largo, Florida, Roundtree chose Illinois, telling FightingIllini.com, “I felt like the university was the best fit for me and I trusted the coaching staff to develop me to be the best I can be after graduating.”

Roundtree had a close relationship with former head coach Lovie Smith, who notably spent days in the hospital with his defensive end after his accident.

While Roundtree will likely be remembered for how his career ended and what he stood for in the years after playing football, he was awfully good for the Illini. As a sophomore he earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the media, and won Illinois’ Dick Butkus Award for outstanding defensive player. In that season, where the Illini went 4-8, he had 66 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.

As a freshman, he also led the nation in sacks by a true freshman through the first four games of the season.

Here’s some of the reaction from members of Illinois’ football team, coaching staff and other Illini.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Roundtree family and Illini nation.