Two former US college football players were among three people shot dead at a pool party near Auburn University, a renowned powerhouse in the sport, Alabama police said Sunday.

The three victims in the incident in the southern US state were identified as Ed Christian, Ladarious Phillips and Demario Pitts, all 20 years old.

Christian and Phillips were former players at Auburn, one of the leading football schools in America. Current Auburn player Eric Mack was among three others wounded in the shooting.

"This is a trying time because it's not only university students and athletes, but it's young people. It's six young people that have been shot," said Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson.

"As you can tell, the community is shaken by this and grieving today."

Authorities said they were still hunting for the shooter, identified as 22-year-old Desmonte Leonard of Montgomery, Alabama. Dawson said the suspect was believed to still be in Montgomery.

The off-campus shooting at a party in the University Heights apartment complex late Saturday came as colleges across the United States are ending classes ahead of summer break.

One witness, Turquorius Vines, told police he and Pitts were approached by two unknown men who started arguing with them over a woman.

Vines, 23, said he punched one of the men, while Pitts hit both of them over the head with a bottle before one or both of the strangers began shooting.

"It started from a female. We were trying to get away from the trouble and it ended up right in our face," Vines told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

The party, Vines said, "went from us chilling with all these females to a massacre for no reason at all."

"It happened so quick, in about a second," he added.

Dawson said the shooting broke out during a "fight that got carried away and got out of hand."

Auburn, the largest and fastest-growing city in eastern Alabama, has a population of more than 53,000 people. It is home to Auburn University, which has more than 25,000 students and 1,200 faculty members.

[A general view of John-Hare Stadium at Auburn University in Alabama in 2011. AFP Photo/Kevin C. Cox]