Lovie: 'Bobby Roundtree is family'

Lovie: 'Bobby Roundtree is family'

SAVOY — A little more than two weeks have passed since Illinois defensive end Bobby Roundtree suffered a severe spinal injury.

Talking about Roundtree on Monday morning to The News-Gazette, Illinois coach Lovie Smith said “it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever been through in sports."

“But that’s life,” Smith said. “Again, you meet it head on. We recruit on a lifetime relationship, through good times and tough times. Sometimes, you need to go through some of those tough times for people and for you to see exactly what you believe and what you stand for.

“Bobby Roundtree is family. I’m his coach, but it’s a lot more than that.”

The incident helps to emphasize what’s important.

“I definitely think when you go through something like this, it puts sports in perspective, puts life and your health in perspective,” Smith said. “And how soon your life can change.

“Sometimes, it becomes more clear to you when you’re as close as our players are, as we all are, to the situation.”

Anything new with Roundtree’s condition?

“There is not a whole lot to report,” Smith said before the start of the annual Illini Quarterback Club golf outing at the UI Orange Course. “Bobby has a serious injury. He’s on the road to recovery. It’s going to be a long process. That’s about all we can say.

“He’s going to be down in Florida longer. We have a plan for him. He’s going to be in Florida for a while. We’ll just see when he joins his teammates.”

The Illinois veterans returned to campus Monday for their first workout. Smith was with the players before zipping to the golf outing.

The fourth-year coach talked to the Illini about Roundtree.

“Our concentration has been on Bobby right now,” Smith said. “We had our first meeting (Sunday) night and kind of let the team know a little bit, as much as we can. That’s kind of where we are.”

The players care deeply about their buddy, a standout on the field from the moment he arrived in 2017.

“He’s one of our team leaders,” Smith said. “To not have one of our team leaders with us is an adjustment. When you’re in athletics, you have to adjust always. Injuries happen throughout the course of a game, throughout life. Again, you adjust and get a plan for it. We have a plan for it.”

Not his style
Some have suggested the Illini could use Roundtree’s injury as inspiration for the upcoming season.

That’s not an approach Smith plans to employ.

“I just don’t believe in motivation from something tragic,” Smith said. “We won’t be talking about that. They need to play their best ball just in general, for the University of Illinois. You should not need something tragic to someone to motivate you.”

Smith has spent time in Florida with Roundtree.

So has defensive line coach Austin Clark and many of Roundtree’s Illinois teammates.

“You rally around family when family needs you the most,” Smith said.

Smith has been impressed with the way the school and staff have reacted.

“Our university has been just outstanding throughout the process,” Smith said. “No surprise there.”

The outpouring of support for Roundtree extends far beyond Illinois.

“Everyone has from all walks of life,” Smith said. “People who don’t know anything about the University of Illinois.”
Work to do
The Illini are coming off a 4-8 finish in 2018, Smith’s best season as Illini head coach.

The team is looking for its first bowl bid since 2014.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but the process has started,” Smith said.

Smith said the team had a good spring. Now, it enters the next phase.

“Guys showed up eager to go,” Smith said.

The Illini have a new/old strength coach. Lou Hernandez rejoined the team after earlier running the strength program during Ron Zook’s seven seasons.

“Our program is in a different position than we’ve ever been in,” Smith said. “We’re in as good a shape as we’ve been. We’ve been building for this team. Guys are excited. They know, though, that it’s one thing to talk about where we are. Now, we have to go to work and see how much improvement we can make between now and the first game.”

The incoming freshmen class reports later in the week.

“Those guys are anxious to join the team and we can’t wait to get them here,” Smith said.

The newcomers include hotshot quarterback Isaiah Williams, who will compete for the starting job during training camp.

Smith has shown his willingness to start freshman quarterbacks. Both Cam Thomas and M.J. Rivers II made starts during their rookie seasons.

“All positions, if they’re the best guy,” Smith said. “If you’re a young guy and you can help us win, you’ll play. Class-wise, it doesn’t matter an awful lot.”

Smith said he continues to look for players. Even with the season opener against Akron on Aug. 31 less than three months away.

“That never stops,” Smith said. “As long as there is a period of time where someone can come to our campus, you’ll see guys coming to our campus. It’s ongoing. We had guys on campus this past week. Our roster is not complete. We’ll let you know when it is complete. We have some spots, and we’re still looking to fill them. And we will fill them.”

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