The same drive that fueled A.J. Kizekai as a former competitive athlete has powered him to his athletic career’s next phase.
The former St. Raphael and Bucknell football star’s competitive nature was evident throughout a grueling, extensive interview process that eventually led him to be chosen as Moses Brown’s new Athletic Director.
Throughout every step of the interview process, Kizekai, 33, bested the competition, rising above the 200 candidate national pool that had been vying for Providence’s prestigious independent school’s employment position.
The search was led by Ron Dalgliesh, MB’s Assistant Head of School, Institutional Affairs, and Katie Denoyelle, PE/Health Teacher and Wellness Department Chair.
“A.J. was the Little Engine That Could,” said Dalgliesh. “This was a rigorous process and he beat out everyone. He kept proving himself over and over again. He just beat out the competition at every phase of the interview process. He is very, very impressive.”
Kizekai is no stranger to overcoming obstacles, taking on challenges and rising above the competition. He has done this his whole life.
He emigrated to the United States from Liberia to escape civil war when he was a young child and settled in Rhode Island. He grew up in Pawtucket and spent significant time at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pawtucket where he forged lasting relationships.
“I was introduced to organized sports through John Brandt. His dad would take me to every practice for whatever sport was in season. To be honest, sometimes I didn’t even know what practice we were going to,” Kizekai laughed. “John and I were both really athletic and it was natural that we played together. We played basketball, football, baseball. We played everything growing up.”
Brandt headed to play basketball at Wheeler while Kizekai attended St. Raphael where he excelled in track and football. As a senior, the running back became the state’s best football player and was named the 2005 Gatorade RI Player of the Year and the RI Gridiron Player of the Year.
Kizekai went on to a post-graduate year at Blair Academy, and, then, to Bucknell University where he was a two-time team football captain, three time All-Patriot League selection and was named to the Patriot League 25th Anniversary Team..
He briefly chased an NFL dream before focusing on an off-the-field athletic career.
After returning to Blair Academy, where he became Assistant AD and Advisor, Kizekai next advanced to Georgetown University, earning a Master’s in Sports Management. He served in various athletic administrative roles at a long list of impressive universities including URI, George Washington University, Brown University, his alma mater Bucknell and Holy Cross, where he was facilities, operations and events director.
“Sports have been the vehicle that I have used to open a lot of doors for me,” said Kizekai. “Fortunately for me I’ve had some very good coaches and very good people surrounding me.”
He singled out Peter Bragdon, Headmaster emeritus at the Governor’s Academy, who has been mentoring Kizekai since the two met in the winter of 2004.
“He (Bragdon) introduced me to the independent school world that has been a major part of my life having attended one and worked at three including my current appointment,” said Kizekai.
With extensive experience at the college level, the natural career progression would have seen him become a college AD. But with that position comes never ending days that progress into nightfall and countless road trips that would have taken Kizekai away from his wife and baby girl.
When he saw the open Moses Brown position, he knew he had to apply. It was time to come home.
“I saw a really great opportunity to lead a department early in my career,” he said. “The lifestyle of collegiate athletes is different. To move up, you have to move around. I wanted to put some seeds in the ground for my family. I wanted my daughter to be around her aunts, uncles and many, many cousins. I Love Rhode Island. This is home.”
So he joined 199 others and put his hat in the ring for the chance to become the Moses Brown AD. And just as he had done on the football field countless times, he blew away the competition.
“A.J. brings a powerful story of tremendous grit and determination which has made him a leader. He wanted this job so badly and is so determined to succeed. He just works incredibly hard to find success at everything he does,” said Dalgliesh.
Kizekai’s leadership skills, integrity, professionalism and experience at both the college and independent school levels are certainly impressive, but what truly separated him from the other candidates was his and the Moses Brown students’ immediate connection.
“When A.J. was around the students, he lit up and they lit up. We want people in leadership roles who connect with our young people,” said Dalgliesh. We immediately saw how committed he was going to be to our students’ success and you could see how they gravitated to him. A.J. was such a highly competitive athlete with strong academics. Our older students saw themselves in him.”
Kizekai has taken on this important leadership role during a global pandemic, in an unsettled environment that may very well disrupt his entire first season helming Moses Brown athletics.
“A.J. does his homework, has a systematic approach and works at it every day,” said Dalgliesh. “He is on our reopening task force and has positioned us to provide team-based athletic activities for our students this fall with extensive safety protocols in place. Every day I see him I am more confident that we made the right choice for our kids. I am so impressed with him.”