Former Largo High multisport standout Bobby Roundtree, whose football career at Illinois was cut short by a 2019 swimming accident that left him partially paralyzed, died Friday (July 16, 2021). He was 23.
Only four days ago, he had posted on Twitter a short video clip showing him being helped to his feet during an apparent physical-therapy session.
“There are no words to adequately express the sadness in my heart,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said on Twitter.
“In the face of unspeakable adversity and hardship, Bobby brought life and optimism to every room he entered. He was a warrior, a leader, and an inspiration to all. I will never forget him. Love you, 97.”
Mr. Roundtree started 20 of his 24 career games at Illinois and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2018. In high school, he was a second-team selection on the Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay squad (Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties) as a Largo senior in 2016.
As a high school junior, Mr. Roundtree, affectionately known as “Tree,” helped guide the Packers basketball team to the Class 6A state final as a 6-foot-5, 270-pound rebounding force. Amid his athletic feats, he maintained a 3.0 GPA.
“Playful, fun-loving, and really loved people. I mean, he was everybody’s friend,” said Packers basketball coach Phil Price, whose state tournament roster featured four eventual Division I-A football players.
“In high school, he’d protect the other kids from being bullied. Of course he could do that; he was big enough. He was just a great spirit. It’s incredibly sad.”
Zhahidi Robinson, a football and basketball teammate of Mr. Roundtree at Largo, said his longtime friend retained his positive energy and playful nature even after his accident.
“There was no bad energy around Bobby,” said Robinson, who now plays basketball at Southwestern College, an NAIA program in Winfield, Kan.
“It’s definitely a shock because I thought the way he worked, his work ethic, I thought he was going to bounce back.”
Eight months before his accident, Mr. Roundtree had totaled five tackles and two pass breakups in a 25-19 loss to USF at Chicago’s Soldier Field. That performance set the tone for a prosperous sophomore season in which he led the Illini in tackles for loss (12½), sacks (7½) and pass breakups (seven).
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On the evening of May 18, 2019, Mr. Roundtree was among a group jumping off boats into the water in the Intracoastal Waterway near John’s Pass in Madeira Beach. He attempted a jump after the tide had gone out and the water shallowed, according to an interview he did in November with the Chicago Sun-Times.
The injury left him with use of his upper body but not his legs or fingers. A civil lawsuit was brought by Mr. Roundtree in Pinellas County, the Sun-Times story said.
“I do get jealous, but that just makes me want to go hard again,” Mr. Roundtree told the Sun-Times. “Everything that I like and want to do, it just makes me want to go harder. I try not to talk about it a lot, don’t put my head there. It doesn’t make me sad or anything. I just try to stay sane and hungry.”
Any evidence of a setback in Mr. Roundtree’s attempts to regain his mobility were nonexistent. On Thursday evening, he had tweeted the message, Stay humble and keep ELEVATING.
“With the situation that happened, him being in that wheelchair, he was still the same guy,” Robinson said. “Spiritually, he was the same guy.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.