Rio Americano's Alfonso Castro loved to play football.
"Football was the best thing that ever happened to me," Castro said. "I'm normally a passive guy. Football let me release my angers on people. I loved playing and hanging out with my friends."
But the senior linebacker-guard no longer plays. He suffered a season-ending concussion Sept. 10 against Woodland.
While making a tackle late in the second quarter, Castro said he hit his head on the ground after his helmet popped off when the opponent's cleat got caught in Castro's face-mask. He said the play left him "super cross-eyed."
Still, a will to compete drove Castro, despite being groggy and disoriented, to plead with coach Christian Mahaffey to keep his injury under wraps as he was being evaluated and readied for transport by ambulance to the hospital at halftime.
"I told the coach that if he sent me to the hospital, I'd be done playing because I knew my mother would not let me play anymore," he said. "I told him to let me sit out a week or two, that I would be better."
Mahaffey ignored Castro's pleas, even though as a team leader and two-way starter he would leave the coach's already thin Raiders varsity even thinner just two weeks into the season.
"He had the signs," Mahaffey said. "He had a headache. He was dizzy, even though he kept telling us he was fine....We made the right decision. It was his third (football) concussion - and three's enough."
It actually was his fourth.
Castro said he suffered two football concussions his sophomore season - he blames a poor-fitting helmet that he said would leave him with headaches after practice - but got a third the summer after his sophomore year playing pick-up basketball.
Although he said his family doctor and parents wanted him to quit football, he successfully lobbied his way into a varsity season last year.
With a new, better-fitting $300 helmet that he purchased, Castro said he played without any issues as a junior.
He continued to play even though he was well aware of the risks and had seen an HBO documentary that drove home the gravity of the potential dangers of repetitive concussions.
"When I saw there was a chance of dying from a head injury - that was really scary," Castro said.
It was even scarier for his mother, Margarita.
She admits she cringed when she would watch the oldest of her four boys play.
"He always played so hard that I worried all the time that he'd get hurt," she said. "But he loves football."
Castro says he has no lingering effects from the injury and continues to work out and run, although football was his only high school sport. He plans to attend community college next year and then hopes to transfer to Cal. He hasn't ruled out playing football again.
Although Castro said his senior season was frustrating, he often worked in practice with his replacements, sophomores Russell Patty and Dakota Pinkernall. The pair were elevated from the JV team after Castro's injury.
"They were really nervous when they first came up," Castro said. "I told them to just go out and play, that football is the best thing you can do."