Bobby Roundtree, paralyzed former college football star, dead at 23

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Bobby Roundtree, the former Illinois standout defensive end who was paralyzed from the waist down in a swimming accident two years ago, died Friday, the university announced.

He was 23.

The school did not disclose a cause of death. Roundtree died in Tampa, where he had rehabbing from the spinal cord injury.

“All of us with Illinois Athletics are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Bobby Roundtree,” Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “From his first day on campus, Bobby was a leader. His work ethic, competitive fire, and drive for excellence set him apart.

“Following his tragic accident, those same qualities allowed him to tackle his new challenges with the same vigor and determination that we had seen on the football field,” Whitman said. “In so doing, he continued to bring light and inspiration to the lives of those around him — and, in fact, to so many people who had never had the pleasure of meeting him.”

Roundtree suffered the severe spinal cord injury jumping off a boat in Florida following his sophomore season.

He had been sharing his rehab journey on social media and became a source of inspiration for the football program.

“I learned that I’m strong,” Roundtree told reporters in 2020. “I probably wouldn’t think I’d be able to do this, but here I am doing it. It taught me also to always have a back-up plan. I was just thinking about the NFL, but I got hurt. One door closes and more open. It taught me I’m a strong young man. I’ve still got goals to reach, and I’ll reach them.”

His most recent video was posted to Twitter on Monday with the caption, “Day by Day.”

In two seasons with Illinois, Roundtree started 20 of 24 games. He earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention in his final season in 2018 after leading the Fighting Illini with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.

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