Nov 30, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree (97) is seen during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Former Illinois DE Bobby Roundtree dies at 23

Former Illinois defensive end Bobby Roundtree, who was paralyzed in a 2019 swimming accident, died unexpectedly Friday at age 23.

The school confirmed his passing a news release.

“All of us with Illinois Athletics are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Bobby Roundtree,” athletic director Josh Whitman said. “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. 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 a severe spinal cord injury in the accident when he went home to Florida for a visit in May 2019. He had been rehabilitating in the Tampa area, where he died.

The school did not reveal a cause of death.

He frequently posted videos to Twitter highlighting the progress in his rehabilitation sessions, with the most recent coming Monday.

“He was fine. He was not sick. He just stopped breathing,” Brenda McCarthy, who knew Roundtree through her role as executive director of the nonprofit group We Believe In Me, told The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill.

Roundtree played two seasons for the Illini, starting 20 games and earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors in 2018.

“In the face of incredible adversity, he demonstrated he was, and always will remain, a true champion,” Whitman said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will support them, and our players, coaches, and staff who knew him well, as we struggle to understand this terrible news and, ultimately, look to celebrate the remarkable young leader we have lost.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 7, 2019; East Hartford, CT, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Jake Hansen (35) sacks Connecticut Huskies quarterback Jack Zergiotis (11) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

LB Jake Hansen returning to Illinois for 2021 season

Feb 29, 2020; College Park, Maryland, USA;  American sports broadcaster Rece Davis stand curtsied before the between the Maryland Terrapins and the Michigan State Spartans is at XFINITY Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker Jake Hansen said Monday he is returning to Illinois for a sixth season after initially declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Hansen, who led the nation with 14 takeaways over the past two seasons, made the announcement in a video message posted on the Illini football program’s Twitter feed.

“The 2020 football season wasn’t exactly how I imagine my time at Illinois to end,” Hansen said. “After extensive talks with Coach (Bret) Bielema and the University of Illinois staff, I have decided that I have unfinished business in the Orange & Blue. I am excited to get back up to Champaign and get to work with my teammates and my new coaches. Go Illini!”

Hansen will be one of 21 “super seniors” on the 2021 Illinois roster, players who will be using the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am excited for Jake to come back to the Fighting Illini family,” said Bielema, who was hired in December. “During my conversations with Jake it was easy to see how passionate he is about the game of football, his teammates and the University of Illinois. We’ve got an outstanding group of seniors that have chosen to come back to Illinois.”

A Butkus Award semifinalist in 2019 and a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020, Hansen has registered 243 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, seven sacks, 10 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and three interceptions in 41 games with the Illini.

Hansen earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology and will continue pursuing a master’s degree in recreation, sport and tourism.

–Field Level Media

Nov 3, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema  stands win the sidelines before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Bielema announced as new coach at Illinois

Illinois named Bret Bielema as its new head coach on Saturday, quickly filling the role left vacant by the firing of Lovie Smith last week.

The Illinois native, who previously coached at Wisconsin and Arkansas, will received a six-year deal with an annual salary of $4.2 million.

“Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me, and I can’t be any more excited about the opportunity in front of me with the Fighting Illini,” Bielema said. “We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I’ve seen when Illinois wins.”

Bielema, 50, owned a 68-24 record (.739) in seven seasons with the Badgers (2006-12) and 29-34 (.460) in five seasons with the Razorbacks (2013-17). His teams are 4-5 in bowl games, including back-to-back losses in the Rose Bowl during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Bielema was a defensive consultant to the New England Patriots in 2018 and served as defensive line coach last season. He then joined the New York Giants and their new head coach Joe Judge, who was previously New England’s special teams coordinator.

“Bret’s blue collar work ethic and genuine, authentic manner will allow him to form strong connections to his players and staff and positive relationships in our community and our state,” athletic director Josh Whitman said. “These qualities, combined with his commitment to education and his track record of success, give me great confidence in his leadership of our football program.”

Illinois fired Smith after five seasons on Sunday.

Smith, 62, took over the Fighting Illini in the 2016 season, and his teams were 17-39 (10-33 Big Ten). His best record was 6-7 in 2019, a season that ended with a 35-20 loss to Cal in the Redbox Bowl.

The Illini haven’t finished their regular season with a record above .500 since 2007, when they were 9-4 and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl — a 49-17 loss to Southern California.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) celebrates running back Mike Epstein   s touchdown during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois WR Imatorbhebhe enters 2021 NFL Draft

Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe declared for the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday and will not play in Saturday’s season finale at Penn State.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt senior leads the Fighting Illini (2-5) with 22 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

After transferring from Southern California, he caught 33 passes for 634 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games 2019.

“My time here exceeded my wildest expectations and I leave here knowing that I am forever a member of the Illini Nation. Thank you for taking me in a year ago and giving me a chance to reclaim my dream,” Imatorbhebhe wrote on Twitter. “… I want to announce that I am officially declaring for the NFL Draft. I wish the team and my brothers nothing but the best.”

Illinois fired coach Lovie Smith on Sunday. Acting head coach Rod Smith will lead the Fighting Illini against the Nittany Lions (3-5).

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) celebrates running back Mike Epstein   s touchdown during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois WR Imatorbhebhe enters 2021 NFL Draft

Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe declared for the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday and will not play in Saturday’s season finale at Penn State.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt senior leads the Fighting Illini (2-5) with 22 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

After transferring from Southern California, he caught 33 passes for 634 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games 2019.

“My time here exceeded my wildest expectations and I leave here knowing that I am forever a member of the Illini Nation. Thank you for taking me in a year ago and giving me a chance to reclaim my dream,” Imatorbhebhe wrote on Twitter. “… I want to announce that I am officially declaring for the NFL Draft. I wish the team and my brothers nothing but the best.”

Illinois fired coach Lovie Smith on Sunday. Acting head coach Rod Smith will lead the Fighting Illini against the Nittany Lions (3-5).

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) celebrates running back Mike Epstein   s touchdown during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois WR Imatorbhebhe enters 2021 NFL Draft

Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe declared for the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday and will not play in Saturday’s season finale at Penn State.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt senior leads the Fighting Illini (2-5) with 22 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

After transferring from Southern California, he caught 33 passes for 634 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games 2019.

“My time here exceeded my wildest expectations and I leave here knowing that I am forever a member of the Illini Nation. Thank you for taking me in a year ago and giving me a chance to reclaim my dream,” Imatorbhebhe wrote on Twitter. “… I want to announce that I am officially declaring for the NFL Draft. I wish the team and my brothers nothing but the best.”

Illinois fired coach Lovie Smith on Sunday. Acting head coach Rod Smith will lead the Fighting Illini against the Nittany Lions (3-5).

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) celebrates running back Mike Epstein   s touchdown during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois WR Imatorbhebhe enters 2021 NFL Draft

Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe declared for the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday and will not play in Saturday’s season finale at Penn State.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt senior leads the Fighting Illini (2-5) with 22 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

After transferring from Southern California, he caught 33 passes for 634 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games 2019.

“My time here exceeded my wildest expectations and I leave here knowing that I am forever a member of the Illini Nation. Thank you for taking me in a year ago and giving me a chance to reclaim my dream,” Imatorbhebhe wrote on Twitter. “… I want to announce that I am officially declaring for the NFL Draft. I wish the team and my brothers nothing but the best.”

Illinois fired coach Lovie Smith on Sunday. Acting head coach Rod Smith will lead the Fighting Illini against the Nittany Lions (3-5).

–Field Level Media