Malik Nabers Named 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP
By Collin Thomas
Florida Citrus Sports
Showered with purple and gold confetti and Cheez-It crackers from his onlooking teammates, a touchdown catching (and throwing) Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP was crowned.
“It’s a big stage to come out in Orlando in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl and come out at a high level and win the MVP award,” LSU sophomore wide receiver Malik Nabers said. “I’m very happy with the outcome of this game and hoping to carry on into next year.”
Nabers was named the 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP after a dominating performance against the Purdue Boilermakers’ defense. Nabers totaled nine catches, 163 yards, and a touchdown while also throwing 2-for-2 with 50 yards and a touchdown. Nabers’ performance helped the Tigers cap a 10-win season with a dominating 63-7 win, the most points scored by a team in Citrus Bowl history.
Nabers said this game was a statement for what is to come in the future and that his coaches put him in a good position to succeed in this game.
“This performance shows that I’m able to come out here and perform at a high level with anybody in any conference,” Nabers said. “My coaches — Coach Kelly, Coach Hankton, always talk about “Have fun, don’t be so stuck up and try to get all the highlights. If it’s destined for you, it’s going to come.
“Today was destined for me to have this amazing game.”
After struggling in LSU’s first matchup of the season against Florida State, which resulted in a 24-23 loss, Nabers finished his sophomore season as the Tigers’ leading receiver. He racked up 72 catches, 1,017 yards and three touchdowns as the team finished with a 10-win season in head coach Brian Kelly’s first season at the helm.
“His ability to focus and refocus, that’s the maturity you see from Malik in terms of how he’s grown in this past year, and I’m really proud of him,” Kelly said.
Due to a denied transfer waiver, Nabers did not play his senior season of high school. But his junior season performance was enough to gain interest from several schools and earn recognition from several programs. In Nabers’ junior season, he brought in 58 passes for 1,223 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Youngsville, La. native was a four-star receiver in the class of 2021, according to 247Sports. Nabers ranked as the 19th-best receiver in the country and the eighth-best recruit in Louisiana.Nabers was committed to Mississippi State before ultimately flipping to LSU on Dec. 16, 2020. Following his commitment, Nabers said the flip was because he wanted to keep the culture of Louisiana home.
LSU’s 63 points scored on Monday tied for the most points scored by the program, tying with the team’s win in the College Football Playoff semifinals in 2019 when the Tigers defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 63-28.
Nabers’ notable highlights came in the third quarter on a trick-play pass to junior quarterback Jayden Daniels to put the Tigers up 42-0 and on a 75-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier to increase the team’s lead to 49-0.
Nabers said despite his performance, it was a team effort.
“We could have had any reason not to come out here and play fast,” Nabers said. “We hadsome time off, had some fun, but we were locked into understanding our main goal: to come out here and win and get our 10th win.”
As for the future for Nabers, he said the Citrus Bowl MVP makes this season a success despite early struggles and will use the award to motivate him for next season.
“I think it made me who I wanted to become,” Nabers said. “It’s something that I can build on to next year; keep my confidence up.”