Roundtree suffers severe spinal injury

Roundtree suffers severe spinal injury

CHAMPAIGN — Social media was flooded Monday with thoughts of prayer and encouragement and hope for Bobby Roundtree. The Illinois junior defensive end suffered a severe spinal injury Saturday in a swimming accident near his home of Largo, Fla., and had emergency surgery Sunday night at Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor, Fla.

“This is a tough one to take in,” Illinois redshirt senior defensive tackle Jamal Milan tweeted. “Everyone pray for my boy Bob. My family and I will be praying for you until we go blue in the face brother. Much love.”

Roundtree is currently in recovery following the surgery. An inquiry from The News-Gazette concerning his condition was routed to the intensive care unit at Mease Countryside Hospital early Monday afternoon. No further details were available, however.

“Bobby Roundtree is exactly what you want in a student-athlete,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said in a statement released Monday. “He is a hard worker, dependable, a dedicated student and a leader. This is devastating to his teammates, the entire Fighting Illini family and his family and friends. We will give Bobby all the support possible as he battles through his recovery. Please keep Bobby and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Largo (Fla.) High School coach Marcus Paschal, who coached Roundtree, said he wouldn’t have any further comment beyond Smith’s statement when reached Monday afternoon.

According to an Illinois team spokesman, Illinois sophomore linebacker Khalan Tolson — a St. Petersburg, Fla., native — was with Roundtree at the time of the accident. Smith was made aware of the accident Saturday night, flew to Tampa, Fla., on Sunday and was still there Monday afternoon with an undetermined schedule.

Word spread to the team slowly with the players having left Champaign after the end of the semester. Illinois finished spring practices with a team bowling trip on April 17. Workouts with Lou Hernandez’s strength and conditioning staff continued until finals, and the Illini won’t return to campus until the second summer academic session begins June 10.

Defensive line coach Austin Clark was already in the Tampa area recruiting, and the other Illinois defensive linemen were contacted Sunday to let them know what happened. Director of operations Tim Knox sent a mass email Monday morning to the entire team to inform them of Roundtree’s accident.

That’s when the tweets poured in.

“You were there when I was at my lowest and you know my family and I are with you this whole process,” Illinois redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Lere Oladipo posted. “We serve a living God and I know he will work his miracles with you.”

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” read a tweet from senior defensive tackle Kenyon Jackson. “This is one of the toughest dudes I know! I need everyone to send a prayer out to my brother. I love you Big Bob.”

Several former Illini, including Kendrick Foster, Cameron Watkins and Pat Nelson, also tweeted their support of Roundtree.

Also included in that group was Christion Abercrombie, the former Illini linebacker/defensive end who sustained a severe head injury Sept. 29 playing for Tennessee State and was in a coma for several weeks. Abercrombie spent 18 days at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., after emergency brain surgery. Two months in a rehabilitation center near his home in Atlanta and another brain surgery followed, but Abercrombie has recovered. He walked across the stage at last month’s NFL Draft to announce the Tennessee Titans’ fifth-round pick.

“Prayers up for you bro,” Abercrombie tweeted to Roundtree.

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Roundtree had a breakout 2018 season, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention status after finishing his sophomore year with 66 tackles, 12 1/2 tackles for loss, 7 1/2 sacks, seven pass break-ups, four quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He led the Illini in tackles for loss, sacks and pass break-ups.

Roundtree was ranked as a three-star recruit out of Largo and chose Illinois over other offers from Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State and Virginia Tech. He played immediately for the Illini.

Roundtree has appeared in all 24 games the past two seaons with 20 starts, including nine in 2017 as a true freshman. His play the last two years — last fall in particular — made the standout defensive end one of Illinois’ top NFL draft prospects.