By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
Undra Johnson, now of nearby Bridgeport, was one of the great running backs on West Virginia University’s first-ever undefeated, untied regular-season football team.
The other two were A.B. Brown and Eugene Napoleon, both of whom transferred from old rival Pitt.
Johnson, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., liked West Virginia so much he returned here after three years of playing pro football to make a living in the Mountain State in the investment business.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound tailback earned letters in 1985-86-87-88. The records for those respective periods were 7-3-1, 4-7, 6-6 and 11-1.
It was in Johnson’s senior season that the Mountaineers were a scoring steamroller, setting school records, but losing in a Fiesta Bowl contest with Notre Dame for the national championship, 34-21.
“That has been on my mind for 24 years,” Johnson said in a recent interview. “I think about it all the time.”
Quarterback Major Harris was injured on the third offensive play. A couple of other key players also went down. Even Johnson got hurt.
He explained, “I went down the first time I carried the ball that night. And to think about it, it was a late hit and hurt my knee. I just wish we would have had some better luck.”
But he still thinks that “if our guys had been able to stick together (health-wise), we’d have won the football game. I really do!”
Johnson also said he doesn’t believe that the Mountaineers really realized how big that game was.
He admittedly loved playing football for Hall of Famer Don Nehlen, WVU’s longest serving head coach from 1980 through 2000 — but he wishes he’d had a few more carries.
Nehlen said repeatedly, “Undra was something special. He was right up there with the best running backs I’ve had, and we had a lot of real good backs.
“We took a chance on him, and he turned out to be something special. I think the world of Undra.”
Johnson, who graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, posted some impressive statistics at the university.
Playing in 41 games, he rushed 442 times, gained 2,212 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns. His longest reception was 17 yards.
Johnson, whose longest rush was 55 yards, was coached at Fort Lauderdale High by West Virginia native Rick Terry. One of his teachers there also came from this state.
Both recommended to Nehlen that he give Johnson a scholarship, and he did.
“No one gave him a chance, and he turned out to be something special,” Nehlen repeated.
After spending three years in the NFL with Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas, Johnson hurt his shoulder and retired. Then he returned to this area in 1994 and launched his highly successful business.
He spent six years with Merrill Lynch and now has 13 years with Wells Fargo. He travels extensively out of his Bridgeport base dealing in the markets.
Now 47 years old, Undra says his next goal in life is to marry the woman he loves.