Reche Caldwell
Reche Caldwell Image Credit: Supplied

Former NFL wide receiver Reche Caldwell was shot and killed Saturday in an attempted robbery, his girlfriend and mother told TMZ.

A "couple of people" jumped from the bushes and "ambushed" Caldwell, his girlfriend said, as he went back inside his home to grab a jacket before the two went out on a date. His mother told TMZ that the 41-year-old Caldwell, who was shot in the leg and chest, died in the ambulance taking him to the hospital.

Tampa authorities have not responded to a request for comment. The University of Florida and New England Patriots, for whom he played, shared the news of Caldwell's death on Twitter.

"He was a good person who smiled all of the time," Deborah Caldwell told TMZ. "He tried to help everyone he could. He was the type of guy who would take his shirt off his back and give it to you."

A second-round NFL draft pick out of the University of Florida by the San Diego Chargers in the 2002 NFL draft, Donald Reche Caldwell spent four seasons with the Chargers and one each with the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins. He was the leading receiver on the Patriots team that lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game following the 2006 regular season. He went to training camp with the St. Louis Rams in 2008. In 71 games, he caught 152 passes for 1,851 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"Reche's smile and attitude were contagious!" former Patriots receiver Wes Welker tweeted about the Tampa native. "My thoughts and prayers go out to Bubba Caldwell and his family!"

Caldwell was a standout baseball player growing up, and in 1998 he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. Ron Cuesta, his coach at Jefferson High School, told the Tampa Bay Times that Caldwell was "a tremendous athlete. I mean, he had it all. If he had decided to go baseball, he would've played in the big leagues, there's no question about it. Every year he got better and better."

Difficult life

Life after the NFL was difficult for Caldwell. He was arrested in 2014 for drug possession and intent to sell nearly five pounds of MDMA (a pure form of ecstasy with the street name "Molly") and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and three years probation. At the time of his drug arrest, he was awaiting trial on charges of running an illegal gambling ring.

"Reche was ill-equipped to handle life outside the NFL," his attorney, Nicholas Matassini, told ESPN The Magazine in 2016. "He was jobless, he was bored, he had a bunch of money, and he didn't know what to do with himself."

Caldwell's brother, Andre, a former Florida and NFL receiver, he told ESPN that his brother was particularly haunted by the AFC championship game in which he dropped two passes and the Patriots lost, 38-34. "He heard all the jokes and criticisms, and it broke his heart," Andre Caldwell said in 2016. "The way the game kicked him to the curb like an unwanted stepchild hurt him mentally and haunted him. Reche got a little bit of a selfish attitude out of it, like, 'Forget everybody else, I'm gonna start worrying about me.'"

This month, Caldwell was to be sentenced after pleading guilty in January to one charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He and several other former NFL players allegedly filed nearly $4 million in false insurance claims over an 18-month span.

"All of us are imperfect people, but he's perfect to me," his mother told the Tampa Bay Times. "He was my hero."