Nearly a calendar year to the day LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers talked about his hopes of winning the 2023 Biletnikoff Award.
It was the fuel to offseason workouts that began Jan. 17 with LSU’s director of athletic development, Jake Flint, receiving a directive from Nabers about his aspirations for the upcoming season.
“He asked me what my goals were this season and I told him I wanted to be a Biletnikoff winner,” Nabers said on Nov. 25 after LSU’s 42-30 win over Texas A&M. “It’s been something I pushed to every time I worked out. Every time I worked out in the training room it was always looked up at my (weight) rack and saw me and the Biletnikoff. It pushed me to go harder and to see that I’m in that spot right now is surreal.”
Nabers will be at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT for the 33rd Annual College Football Awards on Dec. 8, one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award that goes to the nation’s top receiver.
LSU’s previously had two winners of the prestigious award with Ja’Marr Chase being the most recent recipient in 2019. Josh Reed was the school’s first winner in 2001.
“I saw on Twitter (now X) where I was 32nd receiver coming up this year,” Nabers said the Oct. 25 edition of The SEC Network’s Out of Pocket. “I took that personal. I looked at it every day when I woke up, following training. Something I used as a motivator to just keep going.”
Nabers will be one of two players at the College Football Awards show, joining Heisman Trophy favorite Jayden Daniels, who is a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Robert W. Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Awards. He received the Johnny Unitas Award in Baltimore, Maryland on Thursday.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Nabers has been one of the centerpieces of LSU’s offense, leading the SEC in receptions (86) and yards (1,546) and is second to teammate Brian Thomas Jr. in receiving touchdowns (14).
“Be more explosive through the first three games, to reach 1,000 yards and win the Biletnikoff,” Nabers said, repeating some of his goals on the Out of Pocket show. “I had chip on my shoulder. Just a dominant mindset when the ball is in the air. I always feel like it’s mine. My quarterback trusts me to make that play, so I just come down with the ball every time he throws the ball up to me.”
Nabers, who led the SEC in receptions (72) and ranked second in yards (1,017) in 2022, said he also worked on becoming more of an explosive player this year. He averaged 128.8 yards per game, 18 yards per catch and in 124 targets, forced 30 missed tackles.
Nabers recorded nine 100-yard games, including five straight to end the regular season, and extended his streak to 30 consecutive games with at least one reception. He led the nation with 59 receptions for 10-plus yards, 34 for 20-plus yards and 17 for 30-plus yards.
“My run after catch has improved,” Nabers said. “This year I saw I was going to be more explosive, and I think I accomplished that.”
Nabers led his closest competitors – Washington’s Rome Odunze and Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. – in most categories through the regular season with only Odunze getting the benefit of playing in the Pac 12 Conference Championship.
Nabers still led Odunze (81 catches, 1,428, yards 13 TDs) in the three major statistical areas but is also tops in receiving yards per game (128.8) and missed tackles forced (30), while matching his 9 100-yard games.
Harrison, also a finalist for the Heisman, had 67 catches for 1,211 yards (18.07 yards per catch) and 14 TDs.
“Being a leader,” Nabers said of additional goals this year. “Being that person my coaches can count on to lead by example. Just always working, working my tail off to be great.”
In what may have been Nabers’ final act in an LSU uniform, a 42-30 home win over Texas A&M on Nov. 25, he claimed one school career record and is in the redzone for another.
Nabers became the school’s career leader in receptions with 186 during his team’s victory with a 6-catch, 122-yard effort that resulted in a pair of touchdowns. His first score – a 6-yard score midway through the second quarter – gave LSU a 14-10 lead, while the second touchdown – a 21-yarder – came with 8:25 remaining in the game for a 35-24 lead.
“It was a rush of happiness,” Nabers said of hearing the announcement of his record. “Inside of me I was amped up and ready to go but I still had to go out there and make plays also. We were losing at that point. We still needed to go out there and make plays and I handled it professionally.”
Nabers nearly walked away with the career record for receiving yards with seven minutes to play. He took a first-down pass from Daniels and covered 45 yards which would have been enough for the record. However, teammate Kyren Lacy was whistled for holding on the play, costing Nabers a big play and the record for now.
Nabers (2,980 yards) needs 22 yards to surpass Reed’s career mark of 3,001 yards (1999-2001).
“I’m looking at Kyren blocking down field,” Nabers said. “He wanted me to get the record so badly. I’m looking at him blocking and I felt it (play) was going to come back on the last push off. I looked at the side(line), then I looked at the ref and he threw it. I kind of slowed down a bit, but I knew I still had some more to go. I’m not mad at him. It shows how much he cares about me, shows how much he cares about my success being here. It’s all love for him.
“That record hasn’t been broken in over 20 years,” Nabers added. “Whoever has the opportunity, which is me, I would feel like they would do the same. I came here and played with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t care who I was playing, didn’t care how many games we had left. I never left my team out there to dry. This record is mine to break. God put me here for a reason and I’m just glad he put me in this opportunity to go break that record. I’m going to do what he wants me to do.”