The risk: more damage to an already severely injured knee, and a future of arthritis.
The reward: a senior season of high school football.
To Garret Dressel of Placentia El Dorado High, the risk is worth the reward.
That's why Friday he will again strap a brace over the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and play in the Golden Hawks' Century League game against Tustin.
He did the same thing last week and caught four passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in El Dorado's 24-7 victory over Villa Park.
Although he was expected to be among his team's best players, the 6-foot-3 Dressel isn't playing because he fears losing out on a college scholarship. He's playing because he worked hard to become a very good high school athlete, and he didn't want to miss out on what could be his final season of football.
"I didn't want to live the rest of my life wondering, 'What if?' " Dressel said.
His injury occurred in a preseason scrimmage in early September. Two doctors told him he needed immediate surgery and that his season was over.
But he wasn't ready to accept that.
So, he purchased a knee brace and found another doctor who, while warning him that the knee could suffer even greater damage, gave him permission to play.
El Dorado Coach Shawn Racobs calls Dressel "a very brave young man."
"It was his senior year and something he wanted very bad," the coach said.
Last week's game, Racobs added, "happened to be senior night, and it was great to get him in the game."
The decision to put off surgery didn't come easily.
Dressel said he had long talks with his parents. His father, Doug, still isn't convinced the right choice was made.
"Things took a turn for the better right now," Doug Dressel said, "but once the surgery comes we might find out it wasn't a great idea."
Dressel's situation is similar to that of Dennis Dixon, the star University of Oregon quarterback who had led the Ducks to a No. 2 ranking and was in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race in 2007 until he tried to play with a torn ACL in a big game against Arizona.
Dixon looked no worse for wear on a 38-yard touchdown run on Oregon's first possession, but he was forced from the game when his knee gave out on him on a cutback midway through the first quarter.
It wasn't until after the game that it was disclosed that Dixon had suffered the injury two weeks earlier against Arizona State but decided to put off surgery and continue playing.
When he was injured again, Dixon had to have the surgery. Without him, the Ducks lost their final three games, falling not only out of the national title race but also out of the Pacific 10 Conference lead.
"It shows you've got to play your heart out, because you never know when you're going to get that last play," Dixon told reporters.
Richard Ferkel, a surgeon with the Southern California Orthopedic Institute, said some athletes do try to compete with a torn knee ligament, but in his experience "it's rarely successful, and the patient risks significant injury to his knee if it happens again."
Dressel is hoping it doesn't, and that he can put off surgery until after his senior season.
Until then, he's being as cautious as he can.
He took himself out of the Villa Park game in the third quarter when he felt a tweak in his knee. But he said he was fine over the weekend and plans to play again this week.
"He's gutting it out," Racobs said. "It's certainly not an easy thing to do, but he's very tenacious."