Bielema, Whitman reflect on Roundtree’s legacy at Big Ten Media Days


The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree (97) celebrates after making a tackle during the game against Penn State at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Athletic director Josh Whitman and head coach Bret Bielema reflected on Bobby Roundtree’s legacy at Big Ten Media Days after the former Illinois defensive lineman passed away on Friday.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Bobby Roundtree knew how to light up a room, how to brighten someone’s day and how to motivate his teammates while giving it his all game in, game out. After suffering a devastating swimming accident in the summer of 2019 that paralyzed him from the waist down and forced him to go through months of rehabilitation, Roundtree took on an off-field presence while maintaining the spirit, personality and joy that made him such an integral part of the Illinois locker room.

After his sophomore season as a standout defensive lineman and a potential NFL prospect, Roundtree lost almost everything. But he never lost that hope, desire and hunger to recover, attributes that inspired his teammates to continue to fight in his honor.

Though Roundtree passed away on Friday at the age of 23 while continuing to go through rehab, his legacy and story will remain for years to come and will be a major factor in the Illini’s upcoming season.

“Our hearts were broken last Friday,” said athletic director Josh Whitman at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “He’s someone that has meant a lot to this place, and I think he will continue to mean a lot to this place, even with his passing.”

Though Roundtree was unable to be in the locker room during most of the Illini’s 2019 season that culminated in a Redbox Bowl berth, he stayed involved through postgame FaceTime calls from teammates who always made sure he knew how much he meant to the team. 

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Roundtree will forever be remembered for his optimistic outlook on life regardless of his circumstances, which is a philosophy he personified until his passing. Whitman says plans are being discussed to honor Roundtree throughout the  2021 season and beyond.

“It’s incumbent on me and on our staff to find ways to celebrate him, to memorialize him, not just in the short term but in the long term,” Whitman said. “We’re starting to figure out what the right way is to honor his memory to make sure that those people who never had the chance to be graced by Bobby’s presence still know who he was and why he was so important to Illinois athletics and to Fighting Illini football.

“Obviously he’s very connected to a lot of people in the football program and the overall athletic department, so we want to be sure that his family understands how grateful we are for the brief time that we had with Bobby and that they know that he’s somebody that we’ll never forget.”

Head coach Bret Bielema took time during his opening statement during Media Days to acknowledge Roundtree’s passing, saying that though he never had the opportunity to coach Roundtree, he recognized the impact the former Illinois defensive lineman had on the program.

“Obviously a player that was there before I was there, but as soon as I took the job, until I received the news last week of his passing, (I’ve) just been overly impressed with who he is, what he represented, the lives he touched in a short amount of time,” Bielema said. “It was immediately well known to me how much of an impact he had on our team, obviously when he was a player, a great player, but also during his time of recovery and the way he fought and the way he battled up until his passing last week is truly special.”

Services are planned for next week, with several players reportedly planning to attend.



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