LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) – Bobby Roundtree is turning a diving accident that ended his football career into a way to inspire others.
In the football world, Bobby Roundtree was known as a “late bloomer.”
“I never really watched sports, I don’t know how it grew on me,” Roundtree said.
Roundtree started playing football at 8 years old, but he didn’t like it too much. That changed four years later.
“It shocked me that he wanted to pursue football because we never really had football playing on tv,” said Jaqueline Hearns, Roundree’s mother.
His football career began to take off while serving as the starting defensive lineman at Largo High School in 2014 under head coach Marcus Paschal.
“He may have been a late bloomer, but Bobby eventually got the hang of it,” Paschal said. “Me and Bobby probably have one of the more closer relationships I’ve had over the seven years coaching here.”
Roundtree had a goal of suiting up for college football Saturdays. That dream became reality when he had more than 30 division one football scholarship offers.
“How did you make your decision?” WFLA’s Deanne King asked. “Oh man, that day was tough.
Roundtree told 8 On Your Side he had plans of signing to Indiana University. But during the day, he went to the mall and picked up a University of Illinois shirt. He did not make his decision until moments before signing.
“I unzipped the jacket and it was Illinois,” he said.
“It was crazy,” Coach Paschal said. “All of his family had on Indiana gear.”
Roundtree signed a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois. He said his first year at Illinois was a little scary.
“You see the stadium and the stadium will be full, so going from high school to that, you’re scared, you’re nervous, but your teammates are behind you,” he said.
Year two was a different story.
“Second year, I felt like an animal when I was out there,” he said.
After his sophomore season, Roundtree came home to Largo for summer break.
“I went to the beach, had a diving accident. I broke my neck in 2 spots,” Roundtree said.
Roundtree suffered from a C5 and C7, severe spinal cord injuries. This left him numb from the chest down.
“I knew something was wrong when my arms were stuck and I couldn’t move, I knew I needed help,” he said.
Roundtree can’t remember everything that happened, but he believes a woman and some of his friends helped pull him out of the water. While Roundtree was airlifted to the hospital, his loved ones received phone calls they’ll never forget.
“They couldn’t tell me if he was dead or alive, or anything, just that I need to hurry up and get there,” his mother recalled.
“I got a call and somebody told me you need to get over here. I’m like what? and they said, Bobby has had an accident,” Coach Paschal said.
Roundtree’s mother says she had to choke back tears and not show how seeing him in the hospital bed impacted her because Roundtree wouldn’t let her cry.
“When they did let me see him, he kept saying don’t cry over me. I’ll be okay,” she said.
Roundtree underwent several surgeries, then he started his road to rehab; first in Clearwater then Chicago. Roundtree said everyday isn’t easy.
“You might take a few steps forward, but you also might take even more back, so that’s hard. Also, not being able to do the things you used to eb able to do, that sucks,” he said.
It also isn’t easy for his mom. Roundtree’s mother is now unemployed, taking care of Roundree 24/7. The family is also not receiving any federal aid. They are surviving off donations on their GoFundMe page. If anyone is willing to donate, click here.
However, he remains very positive.
“When a therapist used to tell me, this is your injury, you’re not going to be able to do that. I’m like, what? Do you know who I am? I’m going to do that,” Roundtree expressed.
He does it all while bringing the juice.
“I’m the juiceman,” Roundtree said. “I’ve always been the class clown, you know goofy.”
That goofball is still alive regardless of what he went through.
“He’s going to be okay,” his mom said. “He is very independent, very head strong and he always has a smile on his face and a positive attitude.”
“Everybody sees this big body, but he’s comical,” Coach Paschal said. “He likes to crack jokes and that’s him. If anyone can do what he’s trying to do, it’s Bobby Roundtree.
“When someone meets Bobby Roundtree, what do you hope they see?” Deanne King asked Roundtree. “I hope they leave with a smile on their face, knowing that I’m gong to be smiling when we meet. I don’t want them to feel bad for me. Just because I got hurt, doesn’t mean that’s the end of Bobby Roundtree.”
Roundtree has now turned his story into a brand, 97 Strong. He sells clothes, shares inspirational messages with the community and hopes to mentor children around the world in the future.
“I’m Bobby Roundtree aka Big Bob, 265, 6 5, 97 strong, yeaahhh.”
Roundtree and his mother spend a lot of time researching ways to help with is recovery process and looking at surgical options. If any medical professionals can point the family in the right direction, please email Deanne King at DKing@wfla.com.
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