For Manny Cortez, the best thing about all those terrific passes was where they landed.

In the hands of some of his oldest and best friends.

"The greatest thing for me was to have this season with guys I grew up with," said Cortez, who led Pennsauken to its first South Jersey Group 4 championship in 25 years.

Cortez is The Inquirer's Offensive Player of the Year for putting together one of the best individual seasons in South Jersey history.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior quarterback set the South Jersey record and tied the state record with 43 touchdown passes. He threw just four interceptions. He was 176-for-290 passing (60.7 percent) for 3,108 yards, the second-highest total in South Jersey history.

Cortez also ran 113 times for 966 yards (8.6-yard average) and 10 touchdowns, several of the spectacular, highlight-film variety.

"Every time we needed a play, he made a play," Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb said. "All season long, when we needed somebody to step up, Manny stepped up."

Cortez threw all 43 of his touchdown passes in Pennsauken's final 11 games. He didn't throw for a touchdown in the season opener, a 35-28 overtime victory Sept. 9 at Shawnee.

Cortez made big plays all season. He went 66 yards for a touchdown on Pennsauken's first play in a shootout at Camden Catholic. He broke away from three tackles and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to change the momentum in Pennsauken's playoff win over Atlantic City.

He probably played his best game in his last game in a Pennsauken uniform, passing for five touchdowns and running for three more - including a remarkable, 68-yard scramble for a score - in a 55-34 victory over Millville in the South Jersey Group 4 title game.

"He's the best athlete at the quarterback position that's been through here in many, many years," Millville coach Jason Durham said. "Our coaching staff was talking, and we regard him as a once-in-20-years kind of athlete."

Cortez' college plans are undecided. He might attend a junior college before transferring to a four-year school.

Cortez passed for 10 touchdowns as Pennsauken went 5-5 in 2010. He was a good player on a solid team.

But Cortez and Pennsauken burst into prominence in 2011.

"It goes back to the offseason," Cortez said. "You could see how many guys were in the weight room, how hard everybody was working. We would get together in the summer and run at Cooper River. You could see how committed everybody was."

Cortez actually thinks Pennsauken's success goes back farther than the summer, or last winter. He traces the Indians' road to glory from his days as a five-year-old, playing organized football for the first time with neighbor and future classmate Marques Thornton, through his days with his Pennsauken Youth Athletic Association pals.

"Me and [Anthony] Sweet and Justin [Anderson-Copes] and Tyrik Thomas and Shaquille Boardley, we've been together for so long," Cortez said. "Me and Amar [Williams], we started playing together in eighth grade."

Pennsauken is a large high school, the South Jersey football champion of the state's largest enrollment classification. But there was a tight-knit, small-town feel to this team, as so many athletes had played youth sports together.

"The true value of that was shown in how we played," Cortez said. "We have been through so much together. We were always there for each other. When things would break down on the field, I always knew where those guys were going to be.

"We were more than just teammates. We were like brothers."

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports