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Hollywood producer treasures DIII lacrosse roots

Anthony Katagas balances his Academy Award-winning career with a love for lacrosse, which he still plays today after a successful stint at Western New England

At age 43, Anthony Katagas is having quite a year.

He won the Academy Award for best picture as a producer (alongside Brad Pitt, director Steve McQueen and two Pitt colleagues) of the film "12 Years a Slave" and has collected a Golden Globe and other major best-picture awards for the film as well.

The former Western New England lacrosse goalie also collects awards in the sport he continues to play, having earned MVP honors last fall in leading his master’s division team to a championship in the Las Vegas Lacrosse Showcase.

To be making films and playing competitively in a club sport more than 20 years after graduation – well, that’s the definition of pursuing passions.

Just within the past three years, Katagas has helped produce or served as executive producer for films featuring such Oscar-winning actors as  Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Jeremy Renner and Marion Cotillard.

His fledgling collaboration with Pitt – whose Plan B Entertainment was the primary backer of “12 Years a Slave” -- is continuing this year with “True Story,” featuring 2014 Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. Meanwhile, Katagas’ own Keep Your Head Productions (formed in 1999 to develop and produce New York-based films) is producing a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, set within a biker gang and starring Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich and four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris.

Katagas, who majored in government as a student-athlete, is remembered by a former lacrosse coach at Western New England as a “creative guy.”

Coach Joel Castleman put the untested freshman in goal for the Golden Bears during the 1989 season after the starting goalie left the team. “Anthony’s energy and skills exploded on the field and he ended up playing most of the remaining games that year,” Castleman told the Western New England Office of Marketing and Communications last month when Katagas’ nomination for the Oscar was announced.

Ultimately, Katagas compiled 484 career saves through four seasons. He served as team captain during his senior year, when he earned all-Pilgrim League honors in a 10-win season that included a snowy opening-day win against Amherst.

He maintains ties to his alma mater, offering support for its lacrosse program, such as in 2007 when he returned to campus for an alumni game.

“Over the years the college has grown considerably as an academic institution and obviously as an athletic institution,” he told Western New England’s alumni publication, Communicator. “So to keep coming back instills a strong sense of pride and, hopefully, an example of a solid work ethic for the players in the future.”

He still tends a tough net, too, having also led his masters squad to the championship last summer at the Vail Lacrosse Challenge and winning all-tournament team honors. He also is an organizer of the annual Brooklyn Brawl, a tourney for New York City-area teams.

In July, his team will compete in the Over-35 division at the World Lacrosse Games in Denver.

“It’s a fair statement to say we are one of the best masters teams in the world and we will get the chance to prove it,” he said. “I’ve still got the lax bug -- love it more than the movies, to be honest.”

Nominated by Patrick Stewart, director of athletics communications at Western New England University.