On the surface, it sounds a bit counterintuitive, a coach asking his players to not think on game day.

But that's just what Jerry Boyes wants his Buffalo State Bengals to do on Saturday afternoons -- stop thinking and start playing.

"We want our players playing on game day. They can't be thinking on game day," Boyes said. "Last year I think we were thinking on game day because we were still exploring too much, trying to figure out are we this or are we that or whatever it is. I want the kids to know what I know. So it's got to be done over and over again and now on Saturday we're out there playing and not thinking, oh geez, what do I do?"

It's part of the learning curve for coach, staff and players as the program adjusts to change. Boyes spent 15 years as Bengals football coach before taking an eight-year hiatus to concentrate on his duties as the school's athletic director. Last year, he returned to the sidelines and the adaptation process was slow. The team went 2-8 and endured other dismal looking statistics.

"I made a bunch of mistakes last year as a football coach exploring a little bit," Boyes said. "Sometimes I was trying to put a square peg into a round hole you might say and got out of my comfort zone. Hopefully, I've learned. You'd think I've been coaching long enough not to make that mistake, but I did."

Still, the quality of play started to improve late in the season and as players came together during offseason training, the intangibles of creating an effective team atmosphere began to take hold.

"There was a change in a lot of the things we did overall from an offseason standpoint," said senior captain Greg Chadwick, a defensive back from Lancaster. "We did a lot of different workouts this year and workouts together in groups. I think through that, we've seen a change in the team as a whole. Guys seem to be a lot closer. Whereas before it might have been quarterbacks hang out with quarterbacks and defensive backs with defensive backs, now it's kind of a mix. It's more of a whole team type of thing and that's definitely different.

"It's different when you're going through adversity and you look at the guy next to you and you say, well, I know him. I know he has two sisters and I know he comes from this type of family and you know things about that person," Chadwick said. "It's different when you can look at him and have a personal relationship with that person. It makes you want to do your job harder and execute it better because there's people around you that you care about who are counting on you to get your job done."

Getting the job done this year means improvement across the board for the Bengals, who were outscored by an average of 39.5 to 17.9 last year. The team suffered particular letdowns in the second and fourth quarters as opponents held cumulative scoring advantages of 137-63 and 102-27.

This year's squad features 12 seniors with a talented incoming class that has veterans, like Chadwick, excited for a new season.

But for Boyes, all evaluation is delayed until practices evolve into games. The real work, the work that will eventually produce wins in Boyes' philosophy, is having a cohesive team that understands, respects and believes in the collective.

"The phase where you realize success is where we're working together and having great trust and faith in each other," Boyes said, "that is what we're working on right now. From my early observation, I like what I see. I'm OK at this point in time. We seem to be moving along in the proper manner but until we line up against someone we don't know and we get after it, that's when really the questions get answered."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com