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"The high school fall sports season opens this week and prep athletes across Whidbey Island are about to test their skill, courage and competitive fire in sports like football, soccer, swimming, volleyball, cross-country and tennis.In the process, they will probably face opponents who are bigger or more talented than themselves.Coupeville and Oak Harbor athletes will also inevitably face another athletic challenge, one that usually gets a lot less attention in print than the outcome of a particular game.Call it the heart/character challenge.I was thinking about that while watching the Broncos battle the Rams on Monday Night Football this week.First off, I was impressed by exceptional offensive power shown by the Rams. What with Kurt Warner's laser-like passing precision, Marshall Faulk's nimbleness, speed and power, and a laundry list of sticky-handed and fast receivers, St. Louis seems to have dispelled any notions that they got lucky last year.Still, I was more impressed with the Broncos.OK, so maybe I went to college and lived in Colorado for seven years. But truth be known, I switched over to rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs a long time ago.What I found most impressive last night was the heart and character shown by a Bronco team hamstrung by injuries and free agency.Outgunned, outsized and playing in the Rams house, the Broncs slashed and bashed their way downfield on their first possesion, putting up seven points before the Rams even warmed up.But then the Rams heated up and started their offensive juggernaut rolling, bombing Denver with the long ball and the long run after the catch.A lesser team, a team with less collective heart, probably would have folded by the half, especially after losing its MVP running back to an ankle injury early in the half.But the Broncs didn't fold. Every time they got punched, they counterpunched and kept punching.When Warner threw a strike and fill-in-the-blank-scored, the Broncs absorbed the hit and answered back. Employing a second-year quarterback, a second-string running back and a smaller offensive and defensive line, they answered each of the Rams' touchdowns with a score of their own.Maybe they didn't do it as pretty as the Rams. And maybe they needed their field goal team more often. But they did it.As for the Bronco defense, they were shelled but never backed down. Outsized but never intimidated. They made mistakes but never quit.Instead they made crucial interceptions, critical sacks and kept the Rams from running away with a lead.I guess what I'm taking a long time to say is that the Broncos showed both heart and character. As did the Rams. Did you notice the absence of penalty flags in the first half? The only downside to the contest was that it ended too soon. Also, that the Broncs gave everything they had and lost.But I wonder if anyone who saw the game felt like they watched a winner beat a loser. Or if instead, they felt like they watched two teams with a lot heart, character and talent play football at its highest level?Doubtless, there will be times this season when a Wildcat or Wolves team finds itself outsized or outgunned, be it on the volleyball or tennis court, or on the soccer or football field.That is precisely when those athletes will most need to reach down inside and answer the heart/character challenge.Successfully responding to that challenge may not help them prevail in that particular contest. But it could help prepare them for a successful life long after the fall season ends. "