'He was such a great young man'

By COLIN LIKAS
and DAVE HINTON


RANTOUL — Individuals in Rantoul and beyond are grieving after the sudden death of Donnell Robertson.

The 17-year-old died over the weekend, less than a month after he completed his most recent high school track and field season at Rantoul. Robertson also played football for the Eagles.

“My initial reaction was, ‘There’s just no way,’” Rantoul boys track coach Mitch Wilson said Monday afternoon. “I just started crying uncontrollably because he was such a great young man.”

Robertson’s death has left the Rantoul community stunned, according to Wilson, in addition to generating shock among current and former athletes in The News-Gazette’s coverage area.

“This season at Tolono Unity the 1,600-meter race had just begun,” recalled Rantoul track assistant Nick Cole in a Facebook post. “A particular distance running athlete who is a very hard worker, but does not always see the overall success as others on the team, ran the best race of his life. ... It’s at this moment that I see Donnell running across the field. He shouts to me with enthusiasm “Coach, was that a PR” to which I replied ... it was by a few seconds. He then comments on how he was really moving at the end and jogs over to congratulate him. This is the type of (person) that Donnell Robertson was.”

“We’ve played against each other for eight years,” wrote St. Thomas More athlete Bryson Lee in a Twitter post. “You’ve been my friend through all of it. ... I just woke up and got this news, and it just hit me. I don’t know what to say. I love you bro. Rest easy.”

“Rest (easy) Donnell,” recent Unity graduate Steven Migut wrote on Twitter. “You’ve been a great friend and workout partner over the last three years. I’m gonna miss you.”

Robertson was a hurdler, sprinter and thrower in track and field, as well as a running back and linebacker on the gridiron.

He served as an alternate for the Eagles’ state-qualifying 400-meter relay team last month and rushed for 299 yards and two touchdowns during Rantoul’s 2017 football campaign.

“I think everybody’s just asking why. Why did this happen? Why him?” Wilson said. “He was a gentle soul. ... Donnell’s circle was big. He had a lot of people on his side, and I just wish he would’ve reached out to somebody.”

RTHS football coach Tom Hess called Robertson’s death “very surprising to the coaches and the players and his family.”

He said Robertson attended a University of Illinois football camp recently and “caught their attention.”

“We had some (other college) coaches visit recently that were also interested, so the future was bright for him,” Hess said.

Robertson was poised to have a breakout season in football, Hess said.

“He got sick during the (2017) season and was adjusting to the coaching staff and schemes. He developed through track and working hard in the weight room. He was our leader in the weight room in every category.”

A candlelight vigil was held Monday night at Robertson’s home.

RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio said counselors were brought in to meet with students, answer questions “and just talk” Monday. About 25 students came in.

Additional information about services or other remembrance events was not immediately available.

clikas@news-gazette.com

dhinton@news-gazette.com

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