TAMPA — Eric Patterson was a well-liked, standout football player at Plant High School who went on to play at Ball State University and then a short stint in the NFL.
On Saturday, Tampa police say, an intruder fatally shot the 26-year-old former cornerback in his home.
The slaying happened shortly after 5 a.m. at the home on the 500 block of W Plaza Place. Patterson's roommate, whose name has not been released, was awakened by a commotion and came out to find an unknown suspect and Patterson lying on his back, police said. Patterson had apparently been shot.
The suspect fled the house and ran south for several blocks to a white sport utility vehicle, police said. Responding officers began life-saving measures until paramedics arrived and took Patterson to a local hospital, where he died.
Police said the shooting does not appear to be random. No other details have been released.
Tampa police initially withheld Patterson's name, citing their interpretation of a constitutional amendment known as Marsy's Law, meant to protect crime victims. The department later confirmed Patterson was the victim after getting permission from his mother, Devona Sanders.
Sanders was among relatives of Patterson who had already posted about his death on social media.
"I miss you," read one post on Sanders’ page featuring a photo of her son.
Sanders and other family members could not be reached for comment Monday.
Plant High School football Coach Robert Weiner, who coached Patterson in 2009 and 2010, said Patterson was an outstanding player and was well-liked by his fellow team members. Patterson transferred to Plant and fit in right away, helping the team reach the state championship game, Weiner said.
"He had a very gregarious personality, he was very affable and always smiling, always laughing," he said.
After graduating from Plant, Patterson went on to play football at Ball State in Indiana. In 2015, he was signed and released by the New England Patriots and then the Indianapolis Colts. He made his playing debut for the Colts in week two of the season and was waived by the team later that year.
Patterson signed with the Cleveland Browns in May 2016 and was released the following September.
Weiner said Patterson's former teammates are "heartbroken and devastated."
"It’s been a sad couple days, when you lose someone who you feel very much has been a part of your family for a long time," he said.
Among those mourning Patterson is the son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. On Sunday afternoon, as word of Patterson's death began to spread, Dungy took to Twitter, noting that his son Eric played with Patterson at Plant.
"We have heard the story that he was killed but there is no official confirmation and nothing being reported on our news here," Dungy's tweet said. "Our son is distraught but we cannot find any information either."
Ball State head football coach Mike Neu also paid tribute to Patterson on Twitter Monday.
"We are mourning the passing of one of our own," Neu's tweet said. "We are extremely saddened by this, and we ask that you please keep Eric and his family in your prayers. Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal."
Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the case. Tips can be submitted by calling (800) 873-8477, visiting crimestopperstb.com or with the P3 Tips mobile application.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that Devona Sanders is Patterson's mother. A previous version had an incorrect relationship.