BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Jody Fortson keeps his hometown close to his heart.

A two-time Super Bowl champion tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, Fortson graduated from South Park High School in 2013 before embarking on a trying path to the NFL. It’s easy for professional athletes to look beyond their roots and focus solely on their profession — but not Fortson.

Just over two weeks after he won his second Super Bowl with the Chiefs, the 27-year-old returned to his alma mater Wednesday to share his journey and advice with South Park student-athletes.

“Ten years ago, I was them sitting in that chair,” Fortson said. “Any chance I get to come back and just talk to these guys, I’m just all for.”

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Jody Fortson makes a catch during warmups before the NFL AFC Championship playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Fortson admitted he was a bit emotional before starting his speech, and talked about his road to the NFL, from playing football for the Sparks and then at Erie Community College before transferring to Division II Valdosta State as a walk-on. He’d go on to win a D-II national championship in 2018 and signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. Despite injuries, he stuck with Kansas City’s practice squad starting in 2019 before making his NFL debut in 2021. He’s accumulated 14 receptions for 155 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 19 NFL games.

He implored the student-athletes packed into South Park’s auditorium to keep working and dig deep, telling them “it might get hard, but it’s harder to quit.”

Fortson also discussed the loss of his uncle, who was killed in February 2014, and how much he meant to him. He called his uncle somebody who always believed in him and mentioned how they would watch football together often. He heard a player on the Sparks boys basketball team went through something similar recently and that he wanted to connect with him afterward.

That student-athlete was South Park senior Antonio Watts, who found out his mother had died due to pregnancy complications on Tuesday. That same night, Watts suited up for the Sparks and scored eight points in their Section VI Class A2 semifinal loss to Williamsville South.

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to perform, but I could just hear my mom telling me to not give up and play for her,” Watts said. “Knowing that somebody like [Fortson] has been through the same thing as me, it gives me hope … Getting advice from him and talking about what he went through and how he managed, that was big.”

Watts and Fortson exchanged information and plan to stay in contact.

“I lost my person that believed in me right after I graduated, I can totally relate,” Fortson said. “I pray that he’s able to tap into his passion and his motives. I can’t imagine that kind of loss, that’s a tough kid. I’m going to try my best to be there for him because I know what it’s like to lose somebody close to you.”

Jody Fortson speaks to South Park student-athletes on Wednesday. Photo: Adam Gorski / News4

Making those kinds of connections and his passion for Buffalo is what keeps Fortson coming back. He could have been anywhere celebrating the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win or training for next season but decided to spend time with teenagers from his hometown that walk the same hallways he once did.

From growing up around the city to attending South Park and ECC, he’s well aware of how Buffalo helped mold him.

“My city just made me tough,” Fortson said. “From the smell of Cheerios in the morning to the gray clouds to the overwhelming amount of snow, my city gave me tough skin. The things I’ve watched my peers and colleagues fold under, it didn’t affect me the same way. I owe that to my city.”

Fortson’s 6-foot-6 frame towered over students while he took photos with everyone in attendance following his speech, but according to South Park football coach Tim Delaney, Fortson wasn’t always the tall, end zone threat that now catches passes from Patrick Mahomes.

Delaney, who coached Fortson from 2011 to 2013, mentioned how the two-time Super Bowl champion was still growing, both literally and figuratively, during his time as a Spark. Fortson was a 6-foot-1 wide receiver and linebacker in high school before a college growth spurt elevated him to his current stature.

With his four touchdowns as a pro, Fortson has already surpassed his high school total.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Jody Fortson (88) sits on the field after the NFL Super Bowl 57 football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

As Delaney played a highlight tape featuring some of Fortson’s high school plays, the NFLer couldn’t help but laugh and point out certain details of some clips.

“[Jody] was a player who had not reached his potential yet,” Delaney said of Fortson’s time at South Park. “He really worked hard once he left high school — and grew five inches, that always helps. But to see his dedication, that’s why we ask him to come back and he has a few times to talk about his perseverance.”

Fortson heads into the NFL offseason as a free agent after his one-year contract with the Chiefs expired. However, as he spoke in South Park’s auditorium, took photos, exchanged words and reminisced with coaches and school staff, he seemed only focused on the present and how he got to this position — and grateful for the chance to come home again.

“I wouldn’t trade it all,” Fortson said of his path to the NFL. “I’m able to come back to the inner City of Buffalo and tell the people that were just like me that it’s possible … It’s lovely to be able to come back here.”

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.