TAMPA, Fla. — Former NFL receiver Reche Caldwell, who starred at Jefferson High and the University of Florida, was shot and killed late Saturday evening in Tampa, his mother said Sunday. Caldwell was 41.
Tampa police said officers responded to a call about a shooting just before 11 p.m. They found a man in his 40s with a gunshot wound in the yard of a home on the 3600 block of East Hanna Avenue. Officers rendered aid before a fire-rescue crew took the man to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. They said the incident “does not appear to be a random act.”
Police did not identify the victim publicly, but Caldwell’s mother, Deborah, said she was stunned when police broke the news to her around 11:30. She said her son had been heading to a concert at Whiskey North in Carrollwood and that police told her they believe he was ambushed in a possible robbery attempt.
“He was set up,” Deborah Caldwell said. “I’m going to follow it all the way to the end. … You get killed right here in your hometown? You made a statement here, and y’all just took it away from us?”
Caldwell starred in baseball and football at Jefferson High School, which is why the Tampa Tribune named him the area’s No. 67 athlete of the century in the fall of 1999. At the time, Dragons baseball coach Pop Cuesta said Caldwell was as good as any player who went through his program _ a list that includes major-league stars like Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff. Caldwell set Jefferson career records in batting average (.379), doubles (25), triples (six), steals (67) and runs (76).
“It’s a shame,” Cuesta said Sunday. “He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached. He 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.”
Even though Caldwell was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998, his future was in football. He passed for 77 touchdowns and almost 7,000 yards as a quarterback, tailback and punter at Jefferson.
Once he switched to receiver in his first practice as a freshman in Gainesville in 1998, he never went back. His 141 career catches still rank eighth in Florida history, and his 1,059 receiving yards in 2001 are the eighth-most ever by a Gator in one season.
Caldwell was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft and spent six seasons in the league. He appeared in 71 games with 29 starts during his pro career, finishing with 152 catches for 1,851 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His best season came with New England in 2006. He was Tom Brady’s top receiver that season, recording a team-high 760 yards on a Patriots team that reached the AFC championship.
Caldwell had multiple legal run-ins once he left the NFL before the 2008 season. He was arrested and charged with operating an illegal gambling operation in Tampa in January 2014. Four months later, he was charged with drug possession and intent to distribute in Tampa. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and three years’ probation.
Last December, Caldwell faced federal charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He pleaded guilty in January to making false claims to the NFL’s health reimbursement account plan and was scheduled to be sentenced in August.
“All of us are imperfect people, but he’s perfect to me,” his mother said. “He was my hero.”