‘Lightning’ was WVU’s home run threat before Tavon Austin lit up Morgantown

As quick as Tavon Austin or Jock Sanders? Was any former Mountaineer football player ever as fast or zig zag elusive as Austin or Noel Devine?

Ask the sometimes controversial Bobby Bowden about some of his players from his 10 years as both an assistant and the head coach of the Mountaineers, and he will quickly bring to the conversation the name of Danny “Lightning” Buggs.

Buggs returned six punts for TDs.

Buggs was a quick-silver, three-sport standout at Avondale High, a large-by-West Virginia standards school just outside Atlanta. He could have accepted a track scholarship to several schools because Buggs set a Georgia state record in the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 440-yard dash, and the long jump.

Buggs was whippet-thin when he came to Morgantown and finally was able to begin his three-year stay with Bowden and the Mountaineers in the 1972 season. Just as importantly, he was also whippet-fast.

Bowden — forever remembered in the minds and memories of WVU football fans as the man who let slide away a 35-8 halftime lead over little-use-for rival Pittsburgh in a sad game that ended with the Mountaineers losing, 36-35 — was atuned enough to employ Buggs as a wide receiver, runner, kickoff return man, and punt returner.

The now-legendary speed of Buggs was augmented by his 6-foot-2, 178-pound frame. He may have appeared to be willowy or even frail. But he wasn’t. Compared to the water bug trickery of Austin, Sanders, and Devine, Buggs was six inches taller and at least 15 pounds heavier.

Buggs would play from 1972-74. Even with Bowden bringing a more vibrant pass offense to bear against WVU’s Eastern opponents than his coaching predecessors had tried, there were still more runs than passes from his teams.

But when the Mountaineers threw, it was often in the dfirection of Buggs. And why not? He still holds the WVU career record for yards per reception with a 20.9 average.

In his first season, Buggs made teams blink when he ran by their defenses. Even with film of Buggs available, many teams were stunned by his speed. West Virginia had been a team grounded in its inside runners. Those runners were not blessed with much speed. And the Mountaineers had to win with their might and sinew, if they won at all.

Of all the teams played in 1972, it was Syracuse that tried the most to catch Buggs. And had the least success.

With only a 14-12 lead at the half at old Mountaineer Field, Buggs literally dominated the second half. He had 14 carries, mostly outflanking the slower Orangemen, for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He had two catches for another 80 yards and one more score. West Virginia and Buggs had outrun the New Yorkers, 43-12.

After the 1973 season, Buggs was named to the Kodak All-America team. The same All-America honor came from Kodak in 1974 after Playboy magazine had made him a pre-season All-America selection.

He was also the West Virginia Amateur Athlete of the Year for 1973. Before going off to professional football, Buggs had been the WVU Track and Field Athlete of the Year for two consecutive years.

Buggs was able to play in one bowl, and that followed an 8-3 regular season showing in 1972. However, being from the Atlanta area, Buggs must have been chagrined by the 49-13 loss to N.C. State in the Peach Bowl.

When his three years were finished, Buggs played in the 1974 Hula Bowl (where he caught a touchdown pass) and that year’s Senior Bowl. Injuries had continually nagged him through the 1974 season.

His three-year career saw Buggs score 24 touchdowns and finish with 2,729 all-purpose yards.

He left West Virginia with a degree in social work.

The NFL’s New York Giants drafted him in the third round and Buggs played professionally for a total of 10 years. His teams were the Giants and Washington Redskins as well as the Canadian League’s Edmonton and Montreal franchises and the United States Football League’s Tampa Bay Bandits and San Antonio Gunslingers.

He is in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

It was in 1997 that he received the Scroll of Courage from Reggie White’s National Alliance of African American Athletes for his leadership with the Winners Circle youth group in Atlanta.

Buggs went back to Morgantown after being hired by WVU to help athletes as a chaplin through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He stayed in that position for six years.

In 2012, he is a Atlanta Multi-Metro Area Ministry Director for the same Fellowship of Christian Athletes, specifically aimed at Atlanta’s inner-city, and is also the national FCA Inner-City Director. He also is an author and does some motivational speaking.

Danny “Lightning” Buggs.

As quick as the much smaller Tavon Austin and Noel Devine.

And he looked even faster and more uncatchable because the other Mountaineers of his years were mostly inside-running draft horses who had been the norm since the coaching days of Pappy Lewis and Gene Corum.

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