CHAMPAIGN — Josh Whitman knows that difficult phone calls come with the job as the athletic director at any university.

He has had two particularly gut-wrenching calls since taking over as University of Illinois Athletic Director in Feb. of 2016.

The first came in March of 2018 when wrestler Francis Edelen was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Interstate 57. The second came in May when he received news of Illinois star defensive end Bobby Roundtree suffering a severe spinal injury in a swimming accident near his hometown of Largo, Fla.

Whitman announced on Tuesday during a media roundtable discussion that Roundtree had been moved to a rehabilitation center in Chicago after spending the last month in Florida. He was greeted by about 10 staffers upon arriving in Chicago last Wednesday, Whitman said. He did not disclose the facility where Roundtree was taken. Roundtree is expected to stay at the facility for three to six months before transitioning back to Champaign.

"It's one of the finest facilities of its kind in the country," Whitman said. "He's receiving top-level care."

Roundtree's mother, Jacqueline Hearns, is with him in Chicago.

"She has been incredible providing daily support and care for Bobby," Whitman said. "He's lucky to have her in his life. Of course, we like having him so close. We're thrilled he's elected to be in Chicago. It allows us to have people to see him practically every day.

"There have been a lot of people going up there regularly for short visits. I look forward to getting up there and seeing him myself. I did see him once down in Florida and I'm excited to connect with him now that he's up in the city.

"He's got a long road in front of him. We all know Bobby, he's got an incredible work ethic and an incredible outlook. We will be there to support him every single day."

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith constantly visited Roundtree while he was in the Florida hospital. Defensive line coach Austin Clark, other staff members, Whitman and players also visited. Smith showed his brightest colors during the weeks after the accident. He spent time with Roundtree round-the-clock.

"There aren't a lot of Power Five football coaches who would do what Lovie Smith did over those weeks after Bobby's accident," Whitman said. "He essentially lived at the hospital, he slept in Bobby's room. He may or may not be comfortable with me sharing those kinds of details, but that's the kind of person we have as our head football coach. It was pretty powerful to see him there about his student athlete, and to know that was representative of how he cares about all of student athletes involved in our program.

"It was really meaningful for me to see. I know it was meaningful for Bobby. Certainly, I think it was a strong indication for the rest of our team about where coach's heart is at and the way he cares about what they're doing."

Roundtree had a stellar first two years for the Illini and established himself as one of the best players on the entire defense. He led the team last season with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and seven passes broken up to go with 66 tackles, one forced fumbles and four quarterback hurries.

"This is devastating to his teammates, the entire Fighting Illini family and his family and friends," Smith said in a statement at the time of the accident. "We will give Bobby all the support possible as he battles through his recovery. Please keep Bobby and his family in your thoughts and prayers."

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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