Asmussen | Roundtree's injury reminds us life is fragile

Asmussen | Roundtree's injury reminds us life is fragile

We see football players in their helmets and body armor. Looking invincible.

Until we are reminded — over and over and over again — that they are human. Flesh and blood, just like the rest of us.

They are not immune to tragedy. They don't have any special guarantees. Bad things happen to even the biggest and strongest.

Word spread Monday about the serious spine injury suffered by Illinois defensive end Bobby Roundtree. He was hurt in a swimming accident near his home in Largo, Fla.

Across the country in California, former teammate Bennett Williams is praying for his friend. They were part of the same 2017 recruiting class. Both made an immediate impact on the field in 2018.

"It hurts my heart to hear about this," Williams said. "He was having fun, had no thought about something like that. Nobody ever thinks about something like that happening to them. In the blink of an eye, his promising career is taken away. I just hope he is safe and all right and recovers fully healing-wise.

"Most people look at us on the field as if we're indestructible. We're just the machines out there to do a job. We still are people and human beings. Life can be taken away from us so quickly."

Williams was dismissed from the Illinois football team during the 2018 season. He is now at College of San Mateo and will play at the junior college in California in the fall. He plans to return to the FBS in 2020 and will two more years of eligibility.

Though he is no longer with the Illini, Williams stays connected to his former teammates. Roundtree included.

"Everybody knows him as a football player. Everybody watched him on TV," Williams said. "He was always a guy with a smile on his face.

"Every time he came in the locker room, he would say something and it was always uplifting. He was positive and he made people laugh. He's just a good, kind-hearted person."

Though Roundtree is physically imposing at 6 feet, 5 inches and 255 pounds, his personality served as a contrast. And that's part of the reason he is so admired by the rest of the Illini. And not just for the constant pressure he dealt opposing quarterbacks the last two seasons.

"Being his teammate was an honor," Williams said.

Roundtree made a positive early impression on Williams.

"You could tell he was a ballplayer," Williams said.

Helpful traits

As the details are revealed in the coming days and weeks, we will get a better picture of what Roundtree faces next.

His strength and athleticism will boost his recovery. More important, Williams said, is the 21-year-old's character.

"His ability to fight through adversity," Williams said. "He can bounce back from this."

"He's got that 'never give up' character in everything he does," former Illlini offensive lineman Gabe Megginson said. "I have no doubt he is going to make the best of the situation."

All of the Illini, past and present, are on Roundtree's side. Williams will try to visit in the coming weeks.

"As soon as I can," Williams said. "I want to be able to talk to him."

Friendly rivals

Megginson was a veteran when Roundtree joined the team prior to the 2017 season. He liked what he saw from the start.

"He kept making plays over and over again," Megginson said. "I'm an older guy. I wasn't going to let that happen. I had to hold onto him, trying to get under his skin."

They went at it. A lot.

As soon as they got off the field, they were friends again.

"We were sitting next to each other, goofing around," Megginson said. "He is a sweetheart. He can talk to anybody and everybody. He makes friends with everybody. He's just a fun guy to be around.

"He's had a huge impact on everyone he's met."

Megginson, now a starting offensive lineman at Illinois State, is rooting for Roundtree.

"Hopefully, there are no long-term changes in his life and he can get back to what he loves doing," Megginson said. "He's got thousands of people praying for him.

"As you get older, you hear about all these tragedies in the summer. I remember the last couple of breaks, as you go away from your team, you hug everybody and say 'Be safe.' You don't want that headline or story of one of your teammates, or anybody in the country, but especially when it hits home."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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