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Bobby Roundtree keeps climbing past the pain

Bob Putnam

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Bobby Roundtree steadied himself on a standing device. The former Largo and Illinois standout stood there for a moment, his face covered by a mask, before raising a fist in triumph during one of the video segments he posted last month on social media.

“We finally made it this far,” Roundtree said. “There is more to come, but it feels good.”

More than a year ago, Rountree was in a hospital bed, the result of a swimming accident near the docks off John’s Pass that required spinal cord surgery. It left him, at least for now, in a wheelchair. 

Before the accident, the goals were all related to football. A former two-sport star, Roundtree developed into a ferocious pass-rusher, first at Largo, then at Illinois. As a sophomore in 2018, he won the Dick Butkus Outstanding Defensive Player award after leading the Illini in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (7.5) and pass breakups (7). His play made him a viable NFL draft pick.

Photo credit (including above feature): Illinois Athletics

Now, the ambitions are different. 

Roundtree wants to be independent. He wants to travel. He wants to coach, maybe even start his own rehabilitation center. 

Most of all, he wants to walk again. 

“I just want to show everybody that anything’s possible,” Roundtree recently said in his first interview (via Zoom) with reporters since the accident. “You can be on top of the world and something happens, things might not go as planned, but there’s something out there for everybody.

“This injury isn’t going to overcome me. I’m going to beat this and be successful.”

After the accident, once the surgery was over, Roundtree woke up to machines beeping in every corner of the room. His mother, Jacqueline Hearns, kept saying he was special, that he was beating the odds. 

Friends and teammates were there, too, including former East Lake standout Jake Hansen, now a starting linebacker with the Illini. 

The coaching staff also came to the Tampa Bay area to be by Roundtree’s side. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith practically lived at the hospital, even while preparing for the 2019 season. 

The bond between the player and coach has always been strong. After all, Roundtree was one of the marquee names in Smith’s first recruiting classes. 

“Everything that Lovie said during the recruiting process, about being a family, he stuck by,” Packers coach Marcus Paschal said. “You could see it during Bobby’s injury and hospital stay. I don’t know of too many other college coaches who would have done what he did. That was big.”

In June of last year, Rountree was transported to a rehabilitation center in Chicago. He had lost 70 pounds. He could barely raise his right hand, much less do push ups, after the surgery. 

Roundtree ignored conservative prescriptions for recovery, continuingly defying odds. Before long, he was manually pushing himself in a wheelchair. His triceps muscles were developing.

None of this came as a surprise to Jeremy Busch, the head athletic trainer for Illinois football. 

“After this injury you watched a person that eventually was at the worst point in his life, and yet he doesn’t acknowledge that to where it beats him, but he acknowledges it to motivate him,” Busch said of Roundtree. “He’s truly your idea of hope and inspiration on a daily basis. He’s gone from the simplest of struggles to absolutely overcoming everything that you put in front of him.”

Roundtree also was determined not to stay in football exile. He kept in contact with teammates. The coaching staff included him in meetings, virtually. 

The grit Roundtree showed through the grueling stages gave the Illini inspiration. A sign was displayed on the top of a tunnel that the players would touch before heading out to Memorial Stadium. It read: 97 Strong (referring to Roundtree’s number).

Illinois became the feel-good team of college football. The wins kept coming, often in dramatic ways. 

A field goal as time expired was the difference when the Illini handed the Badgers, ranked No. 6 at the time, their first loss in October of last season. It was the Illini’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2011. Afterward, Illinois players recorded videos of their celebration and sent them to Roundtree.

Three weeks later, the Illini rallied from a 21-point third quarter deficit to beat Michigan State 37-34. 

“I would do anything for the kid,” Hansen said of Roundtree. “He’s been a huge inspiration.”

Roundtree attended last year’s regular season finale, his first game at Memorial Stadium since the injury. He led the team in a pregame prayer. 

Bobby Roundtree Illinois Football vs. Northwestern in Champaign, Illinois November 30, 2019

And Roundtree still is part of the team. His locker remains untouched. 

“Having the team I have now I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Roundtree said. “They’ve been very supportive. They know I’m going to work. I know they’re going to work. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

The Illini faithful have shown financial support, too. A Gofundmepage created by the university has already raised more than $131,000 to help offset some of Roundtree’s medical expenses. 

“With everybody so behind me and pushing me, that makes me want to go harder,” Roundtree said. “The support of everybody fundraising and everybody donating that means a lot having that support. I don’t have a million dollars to help me through this all. People are giving their last pennies to help me out. That’s just a lot of love right there, and I appreciate everybody for that.”

Roundtree keeps posting video messages of his progress. He bench presses. He does core work. He rolls on to his side. 

As for his legs, they still feel heavy. There still is nerve pain. Stil, he continues to work, often stretching his legs as if he is going on a run. He also pedals on a stationary bike to create movement and puts his feet on a vibration plate in hopes of rejuvenating the nerves. 

“I’m just looking at ways to be creative to get back to where I want to be,” Roundtree said. 

The next step for Roundtree is to take some on his own. 

“When somebody tells me I can’t do something I’m going to prove them wrong and show that I’ll be able to do it,” Roundtree said. It might take me a couple of tries, but I’m going to do it.

“I want to show everybody that anything is possible, no matter the situation.”

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College Football

Seminole’s Chris Miller selected to coach in Tropical Bowl

Bob Putnam

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Seminole’s Chris Miller was named one of the head coaches for the Tropical Bowl, an all-star college football game featuring mostly FBS players who are potential NFL draft picks. 

Miller will coach the American team. He left Thursday to start practices for Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. at Kissimmee’s Celebration High. 

The staff Miller assembled includes Warhawks assistants Rob Ewing and Chris Parker and former Admiral Farragut standout Kreg Brown. 

After spending more than a decade as a player and a coach at Admiral Farragut, Miller left to become coach at Seminole in 2013. 

This is his third year coaching in a college all-star game. He was the receivers coach for the National Bowl in 2018 and was offensive coordinator for the game in 2019. 

Two locals are playing in this year’s Tropical Bowl — USF defensive back Mike Hampton (Hillsborough) and Florida International offensive lineman Shane McGough (Gaither).  

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College Football

National Signing Day: Local list of signees

Bob Putnam

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Armwood

DB Noah Biglow

College: Pittsburgh

DL Chris Davis Jr.

College: Georgia State

QB Cam’Ron Ransom

College: Georgia Southern

DL Desmond Watson

College: Florida

Berkeley Prep

DL/LB Austin Dean

College: Rutgers

WR RJ Garcia 

College: Kansas State

Boca Ciega

LB Evan Graham

College: Georgia State

Bloomingdale

DL Jordan Guerad

College: Florida International

WR Agiye Hall

College: Alabama

DB Briton Pascoe

College: North Dakota State

DB Philip Riley

College: Notre Dame

DB Jayden Williams

College: Florida Atlantic

Calvary Christian

WR Richie Ilarraza

College: Howard

S Makkah Jordan

College: Georgia State

WR Kellyn West

College: Davidson

Carrollwood Day

DL Desmond Mamudi

College: Virginia Tech

TE Michael Trigg

College: Southern California

Clearwater

WR Cardrece Mobley

College: USF

Clearwater Academy

RB Brendon Barrow

College: Stanford

DL/LB Nathan Carabatsakis

College: Robert Morris

DL Ebenezer Dibula

College: Bethune Cookman

DB Shakespeare Louis

College: Robert Morris

DL Yonatan Marmour

College: Youngstown State

DL Tristan Marois

College: Robert Morris

DB Cyrus McGarrell

College: Northern Illinois

LB Darius McKenzie

College: Maine

OL Albert Reese

College: Mississippi State

WR Nickolas Tshivuadi

College: USF

Durant

OL Wyatt Lawson

College: Florida International

East Lake

LB Dylan Rosiek

College: Illinois

Gaither

QB Kiael Kelly

College: Ball State

RB Ricky Parks

College: Utah

LB Hayden Reed

College: Army

DB Jordan Young

College: Florida

Jefferson

TE Gage Wilcox

College: Florida

Jesuit

QB Joe Pesansky

College: Holy Cross

Lakewood

WR Artez Hooker Jr.

College: Florida International

Lennard

DL Jhalin Hobbs

College: USF

Plant City

WR Mario Williams

College: Oklahoma

Tampa Bay Tech

DL Henry Hughes

College: Rutgers

DB Steven Parker

College: UNC Charlotte

Steinbrenner

DB Matthew Durrance

College: South Dakota State

RB Deon Silas

College: Iowa State

Tampa Catholic

DL/TE Cole Essek

College: Appalachian State

OL Jaden Sandlin

College: Florida Atlantic

OL Jordan Sandlin

College: Florida Atlantic

Wiregrass Ranch

TE Gabriel Thompson

College: Army

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College Football

Football: Live early signing day updates

Bob Putnam

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This football signing cycle has been unlike any other. A dead period that has lasted for more than eight months. No live evaluations from coaches. No personal visits to check out campuses. Just about everything was done in a virtual setting because of the coronavirus pandemic. Which all leads to today, the start of the early signing period. Most of the ceremonies will not have as much fanfare as year’s past, due largely to social distancing requirements. But for the players, after months of Zoom meetings and virtual tours, will finally get some relief knowing where they will go to college. Better still, they will soon get to see their new campus — in person as a member of the team.

Check here for updates throughout the day.

A local flip

USF lost one of its commitments when Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, a three-star recruit, decided to attend Virginia Tech. Mamaudi had pledged his allegiance to the Bulls this summer and stuck with that commitment throughout most of the season. The Hokies became the first Power 5 school to offer in mid-November.

Two locals stay loyal to Illinois

East Lake’s Dylan Rosiek and Tampa Catholic’s DD Snyder both committed to Illinois this summer, in part because of their connection with head coach Lovie Smith.

Their devotion to the program was tested this week when Smith was relieved as coach. Still, it did not take long for the two to decide to stick with the Illini.

Rosiek made it official Wednesday morning.

Snyder, ranked among the nation’s top safeties, was not too far behind, making it official by late morning.

Nation’s top receiver is officially a Sooner

Plant City’s Mario Williams, the nation’s top-rated receiver according to ESPN, has officially signed with Oklahoma. Williams committed to the Sooners this summer. The two-sport star also plans to play baseball in college.

Florida’s class features plenty of area stars

Four local standouts — Armwood defensive lineman Desmond Watson, Armwood athlete Charles Montgomery, Jefferson tight end Gage Wilcox and Gaither defensive back Jordan Young — all made their commitments to Florida this summer and are expected to sign today.

Watson and Wilcox have already made it official.

Andrew Kilfoyl is the first local in USF’s class

Despite losing Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, USF is expected to have plenty of area players in its early class. Gaither lineman Andrew Kilfoyl became the first, signing with the Bulls this morning. Kilfoyl’s older sister is former Academy at the Lakes softball star Lexi Kilfoyl, now at Alabama.

USF was not finished. Joining Kilfoyl as part of a strong contingent of locals was Clearwater receiver Cardrece Mobley and Clearwater Academy receiver Nickolas Tshivuadi. Both committed to the Bulls this summer and made it official on Wednesday.

Berkeley Prep’s RJ Garcia signs with Kansas State

RJ Garcia, a dynamic receiver for Berkeley Prep the past two seasons, made his college plans official by signing with Kansas State. He is the second Buccaneers player to join the Wildcats in the past two seasons. The other, Joshua Youngblood, had a stellar college debut as a kick returner last season before entering the transfer portal. Youngblood signed with Rutgers this morning.

Berkeley Prep ties pay off for Rutgers’ Greg Schiano

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has plenty of connections to Berkeley Prep. After all, his son played at the private school . And Schiano spent two years volunteering with the football program following his departure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those ties have paid off in recruiting. Two years ago, Schiano, then an assistant head coach at Ohio State, was instrumental in getting five-star Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere to commit to the Buckeyes. When Schiano began his second stint taking over the Scarlet Knights this offseason, he landed another former Berkeley Prep standout in Mayan Ahanotu, who transferred from Minnesota. 

Now, add Austin Dean and Joshua Youngblood to the list. 

Dean, a linebacker/defensive lineman who helped the Buccaneers reach the Class 3A state semifinals, made it official by signing with Rutgers. He picked the Scarlet Knights over offers from Florida Atlantic, Harvard and Yale. 

Youngblood, who transferred from Kansas State, led the nation with three kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman last season and was named an All-American by several publications. He signed Wednesday morning, too.

Rutgers’ early class is expected to add another local, Tampa Bay Tech defensive lineman Henry Hughes. But there were some misses. The Scarlet Knights lost out on Clearwater Academy offensive lineman Albert Reese, who committed to Rutgers this summer before signing with Mississippi State.

Isaiah Bolden becomes first local recruit for Deion Sanders at Jackson State

Former FSU star and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders is filling out his first signing class at Jackson State by leaning heavily on transfers.

On Tuesday, Sanders’ son, Shilo, announced would be leaving South Carolina to play for his father.

Sanders added another prized prospect with former Wesley Chapel standout Isaiah Bolden signing with Jackson State on Wednesday. Bolden spent the past three years at FSU before entering the transfer portal in September. He announced his commitment to Jackson State in November.

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