It was hotter here today than it should be for the Redskins' two-a-day workouts. The combination of high temperatures and intense humidity turned the practice field into an inferno.

But Louis Carter didn't mind.

"It isn't really hot," he said, "until you can see the heat shimmering up from the grass. Then you know it's bad."

That's how Carter remembers his days in the preseason camp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- 100-degree heat with thunderstorms interrupting practice sessions and making them stretch past dinner time.

That's one reason Carter is happy to be a Redskin after three sometimes frustrating seasons in Tampa Bay.

But there are others. For one, he thinks he has a chance to be viewed as a competent running back here, capable of turning in a bona fide NFL performance. For another, he doesn't feel it will be held against him that he played football at Maryland, not Southern California.

"They ran a USC shuttle system at Tampa," he said. "After a while, when the Ricky Bells and Anthony Davises kept showing up, you realized what your position on the team would be.

"You never got beat out of a position at Tampa Bay. Things didn't work that way. People were brought in and became instant starters. It didn't help morale at all; you knew if it happened to someone else, it could happen to you."

Yet Carter is not bitter about how Coach John McKay, the Southern California legend, treated him. Disappointed, yes, but Carter has never let violent emotions cloud his judgment.

He says when he goes to Tampa Saturday night he won't be bent on gaining revenge in the Redskins' opening exhibition game -- Washington is a four-point underdog to the former NFL doormats.

All he would like to do is "play and g a chance to show what I can do here. Sure, I'd like to do well and I don't want to embarrass myself in front of my ex-teammates. But revenge, no that's not for me."

Long before Carter arrived in pro football, when he was a record-setting back at Maryland, he already had achieved the maturity of someone years older. He knew his limitations as a player -- that he lacked the breakaway quickness of a Tony Dorsett -- and he never expected to become a superstar.

So when superstar status was not accorded him, along with the resultant trappings of success, he did not suffer the withdrawal pains that some college students must overcome.

When he was traded to the Redskins from Tampa this spring, he did not suddenly view himself as the running back savior for Washington. He is convinced he can help his new team, either as a starter or a spot player. But no matter what happens, he won't be discouraged by his treatment.

"I've always wanted to guard against letting pro ball destroy my mind," he said. "You get drafted high (third round by Oakland) and suddenly you are some sort of celebrity. It can really affect you.

"I made sure I remembered that I had to worry about my life after football, that one day I wouldn't be this so-called celebrity anymore. If I tried to live my life as normally as possible now and look at this as a job, the adjustment later on would be a lot simpler."

This steadiness is reflected in how he plays. Carter practices almost like a machine; each day, his performance is almost the same as the day before. He rarely makes major errors, he knows his assignments, he never complains and he always hustles. He is as tough as any runners in camp at getting those head-shattering goal-line yards.

Fred O'connor, the Redskins' backfield coach, calls Carter "Steady Louie."

Connor instructed Carter at Maryland, knows him well and marvels at his consistency.

"Lou never changes," said O'connor. "He gives you just what you expect. You have to admire him. He works at it. He's not gifted as much as some other guys but he's made the most of what he has."

Carter's particular specialty is pass catching. His hands are clamps, in traffic or in the open field. That could well be his role on this team, the third-down-and-long specialist who demands specific coverage from the opposition or he will constantly swing out of the backfield and grab firstdown passes.

"There's the difference between me and a lot of guys who are faster," he said. "They never work on their pass routes. They just think if they run a 9.5 100 they can blow by anyone who covers them.

"That's not true up here. You have to have more than speed. I run pass routes during the offseason. I'll go to Maryland and practice with them. I really never take time off like a lot of guys. I jog and play basketball and keep active. I can't afford to rest."

Carter has tasted briefly the nectar of stardom in the pros. After being selected by Tampa from Oakland in the expansion trade, he was a starter for the Buccaners in 1976, leading the club with 521 rushing yards.

But then Bell arrived and Carter went to the bench. He played enough the next two seasons to catch 29 passes and pick up almost 400 yards rushing -- only Bell has more ground yards in Tampa history -- but he left he was being lost in the shuffle.

"Our lack of ground game was always being blamed on the backs," he said. "But they had three line coaches in three years and remade the line just about as much. I guess they finally realized that you can't run without someone blocking in front of you.

"But one thing about Coach McKay always has a solution. He had solutions A,B,C -- now I think he is down to Y. He is always one step ahead of things, trying to give the fans something to hang onto.

"They just liked to play two backs until they dropped. I think you have to have faith in four or five and rotate them to keep everyone fresh. It just makes morre sense that way.

"I just felt useless. I didn't play on special teams, I just was a fill-in. I wasn't doing much of anything. Now maybe that will change."

Carter is so easygoing, so unassuming, he is as O'connor puts it: "the kind of guy you like to have around. He takes everything in, doesn't complain, just shows up and does his job. He's got his head straight."

Because Carter feels so strongly about not exploiting his status as a football player, he has spent three summers trying to show teen-agers in a Maryland detention center just what an athlete with his head on straight looks like.

It was volunteer work, something Carter has been determined to undertake since his own teen-age days, when he and a friend would organize recreational activities for needy youth near his home in Laurel.

"I really enjoyed the work at the detention center," he said. "I still talk to some of the kids on the phone. We planned out things for them to do and we talked to them. We even had handicapped kids. I don't know what it is but they seemed to respond better when sports was involved.

"It was rewarding. It made me feel like I was getting more out of football than a paycheck." CAPTION: Picture, Louis Carter