He has spindly legs and narrow hips. His upper body is no weightlifter's dream, either. He has average-sized hands and he isn't particularly fond of contact.

But Michigan's Anthony Carter is very fast afoot and can catch a football.

Herschel Walker of Georgia, John Elway of Stanford and Marcus Allen of Southern California probably will get more votes for the Heisman Trophy. But Carter, a junior, has had just as big an impact on his team as the others have had on theirs.

The slightly built Carter (5-foot-11, 161 pounds) is one of the most exciting players in college football. Almost single-handedly, he has changed the Wolverines from a plodding, straight-ahead team to a wide-open, score-from-anywhere squad that has a shot at the national championship.

The Wolverines don't have a particularly good passer this season. Option quarterback Steve Smith enters Saturday's game against Navy having completed only seven of 33 passes with five interceptions, and their passing game isn't a sophisticated one.

Still, Carter has caught four passes this season, two of them for touchdowns.

He is averaging 27.5 yards a catch this year, and in his first two years at Michigan averaged 18.8 yards on 68 catches.

Perhaps Carter's most impressive statistic is that of his 72 career receptions, 23 have been for touchdowns. Of every three passes he catches, one is for a touchdown.

"Whenever the ball comes near me I'm thinking first down and then touchdown," Carter said today.

His speed and his quickness are his major assets, more than offsetting a lack of size. He consistently runs the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.

John Wangler, last year's quarterback, said what separates Carter from most other receivers "is his ability to go after the ball once it's in the air."

Coach Bo Schembechler disdained the forward pass until he recruited Carter. When Carter was a freshman, Schembechler used to tell his quarterbacks to overthrow him.

"They couldn't do it," Schembechler said. "When you've got a player like that you have to get the ball to him. I don't care what offensive philosophy you believe in."

Like many exceptional athletes, Carter can't explain how it happened. He has eight brothers and sisters; none is an athlete.

"I don't believe I'm all that good. There are a lot of things I do that I don't believe. They just happen," he said.

They started happening when Carter was 10 years old and playing recreation league football in Riviera Beach, Fla.

"Every time I got the football, I ended up in the end zone," Carter said. "So I thought this must be my game."

Schembechler has the reputation for being a strict, unbending disciplinarian whom his players respect, but don't necessarily love.

An interesting relationship has developed between the coach and Carter, though. Carter is as close to Schembechler as any player in recent years and his teammates sometimes call him Schemmey, after Schembechler's 11-year-old son.

In the past two seasons, Carter ran back kickoffs and punts. He hinted before this season that he wasn't particularly fond of returning punts because he was subjected to cheap shots.

"I feel like a marked man most of the time," Carter said. "I take a lot of extra hits, but my teammates do a good job of protecting me."

Without anything being said, Schembechler found a new punt returner this season.

"I don't want to overuse him and get him hurt," he said.

Schembechler also is a perfectionist -- usually.

Carter remembers a recent practice when he ran a wrong pass pattern.

"I was running an out route," he said. "I went out five yards, but instead of cutting I twirled around and lost the defensive back. Coach Bo said it wasn't the way to do it, but he liked it that way, so he kept it in."

His size is the first thing one notices about Carter. "I have some thoughts about my lack of size," he said, "but I haven't been able to do much about it."

It may not be a problem, anyway, because more teams in the National Football League are using smallish, very fast wide receivers. Three of the top wide receivers for the Atlanta Falcons in the last couple of years fit that description: Alfred Jackson (5-11, 176), Billy Ryckman (5-11, 172) and Alfred Jenkins (5-10, 172).

"What has evolved here is that the rule changes have enabled us to play these guys," said Jimmy Raye, the Falcons' receiver coach. "The one-bump rule protects the little receiver and the little guy with great quickness and great speed is virtually impossible to stop if you can't hit him once he gets five yards downfield. Carter will be a big factor in this league. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

"The thing with him is that he appears to have a tremendous ability to make people miss him after he catches the ball. He's like a balloon when you let the air out -- it just goes everywhere."