Sakhno’s size, footwork help make him a tough blocker

Alex Sakhno’s size and footwork should facilitate his move from tight end to offensive tackle.

Alex Sakhno’s obvious attribute is his size. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he’s hard to miss. But there is a less obvious quality about Sakhno — until you see him move on the football field — that makes him such an effective blocker: his footwork. For a big guy, he is remarkably agile, and that is going to help him in his new position.

After starting every game at tight end last year in his first varsity season for Riverhead High School, Sakhno has been moved to offensive tackle for his senior season. The reasoning is simple enough. Coach Leif Shay considers Sakhno to be the best blocker on the team. With the Blue Waves being short on offensive tackles, who better to fill the position?

“We had a need for an athletic left tackle,” Shay said. “Alex brings his height and his range, plus he can block. He showed last year that he was a great blocker. He was a little hesitant to [make the move], but we’re ecstatic that he did it.”

Sakhno said it isn’t too great a change for him. “My team needs that position, and I’ll do anything to help out, and I’ll do my best at that position,” he said in an interview following Friday morning’s practice session.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the size of the players he will be blocking. “The defensive tackles that I have to block are bigger than the defensive ends,” he said. “I just have to move quicker, pick up the linebackers on the blitzes.”

In making the transition from tight end to offensive tackle, Sakhno takes on the anonymity of an offensive lineman.

“The biggest change is you have to accept from an ego standpoint that you’re not going to catch those touchdown passes,” Shay said. “You have to mentally understand that you’re a guy in the trenches who caused a touchdown to happen, but you’re not going to get credit for it. To Alex’s credit, he accepted that.”

Born in the Ukraine, Sakhno came to the United States when he was 7 years old. He recognizes that if he had remained in the Ukraine, he would not be playing football, at least not the type of football in which hands are allowed to touch the ball. He would like to continue playing beyond high school.

“He’s a hard worker,” said senior running back Rodney Rollins, who has known Sakhno since they were in seventh grade. “He works hard at everything he does.”

Intelligent (he carries a 99 grade-point average), Sakhno is also a basketball player. But in football, it is his blocking that stands out.

To some, the image of a lumbering lineman may come to mind when thinking about an offensive tackle, but that does not describe Sakhno. “He’s not like your typical lineman,” said Rollins.

It’s that combination of size and quickness that makes Sakhno special. “To have a kid that smart and that athletic and that big, that’s a blessing,” said Shay.

The key to being a good blocker, Sakhno said, is “just never giving up, moving your feet, using your hands, positioning.”

Sakhno’s replacement at tight end will most likely be Owen Keupp, said Shay. Jim Pipczynski may play center and Curtis Conklin could be the right offensive tackle, but positions are still open. “There’s a lot of guys vying for spots,” said Shay.

For opponents, the prospect of lining up against Sakhno, whose figure is even more imposing in helmet and pads, can be an intimidating one. Rollins said, “I wouldn’t want to do it.”