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CHAMPAIGN — He is not with them each day.

But Bobby Roundtree remains in the heads and hearts of his Illinois football teammates.

More than a year after a devastating swimming accident ended his playing career and has him in a wheelchair after a severe spinal injury, the star defensive end continues to rehabilitate.

You can see some of Roundtree’s recent work on Twitter (@BobbyRoundtr97).

His most recent post came Friday morning. A simple “Be great.”

On Wednesday, Roundtree wrote: “I’m sorry I never tell y’all how much I love the support you all give me.”

And the day before that, a short video clip showed Roundtree working out with the comment: “Another day, Another rep!!! We live to fight another day.”

Currently, Roundtree’s fight is continuing back home in Florida. The distance doesn’t matter to his teammates.

“Bobby is always with us,” Illini linebacker Milo Eifler said Friday.

In a time of world-wide crisis, the players understand Roundtree’s need to be close to home.

“Now that we have a pandemic going on, I don’t know how soon we can get him back on campus,” Eifler said. “He’s doing his thing. I check in with him.

“I’m proud of Bobby. I love him so much.”

Home away from homeIllinois coach Lovie Smith has made it clear: Roundtree has a permanent spot in the Champaign-Urbana community.

When Roundtree returned to campus during the 2019 season, it became an emotional scene.

He visited the team last November for the home finale against Northwestern. Never mind that the team lost 29-10 to the Wildcats.

“I was speechless,” linebacker Dele Harding said at the time. “We dedicated the season to him.”

And they are dedicating this season to him, too. And likely future efforts.

“He’s always going to serve as an inspiration to me,” junior linebacker Khalan Tolson said.

Staying closeTolson was one of the people with Roundtree last spring at the time of the accident.

Roundtree took Tolson under his wing early in the linebacker’s career and the two became good friends.

Now a starter, Tolson appreciates the kindness Roundtree showed him. The Florida guys on the team stick together.

Roundtree talks to the Illini often on group chats and FaceTime. His buddies see the efforts paying off.

“He’s getting there,” Tolson said. “He’s doing very good.”

It’s unknown when Roundtree will return to Illinois campus. Or if he will see the team play during the coronavirus-delayed season.

“I’m hoping he can come back,” Tolson said.

Roundtree’s progress continues every day.

“He’s pretty close,” Tolson said. “He’s definitely feeling good. He’s definitely a positive spirit.”

What will be next for Roundtree? Long term, Tolson said, his friend has many career options.

“He could be a motivational speaker, a coach, whatever he decides,” Tolson said. “I see it all.”

Roundtree has the backing of Illinois going forward. He set a standard for work ethic and determination that will be talked about decades from now.

Looks like Roundtree has decided to turn tragedy into triumph. His teammates and coaches recognize his contributions to their success, on and off the field. And are rooting for him.

Hard to complain about a long day with strength coach Lou Hernandez when you see the grueling workouts Roundtree goes through to get back on his feet.

Beyond admirable. It’s heroic.

Can’t wait to see #97Strong roaming the Memorial Stadium sidelines again. Soon.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

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