Tupelo native chooses music over homeland security career

Music is one thing dear to Jesse Leech’s heart.

Music is universally understood. Some play instruments. Others sing, and some write lyrics.

Tupelo native Jesse Leech, 23, recently graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in homeland security. Although it may seem like his career path would lead to a criminal justice job, his first love is music.

“When I first started college, my plan was to major in music entertainment or music business,” Leech said. “I’d always wanted to go to Belmont in Nashville where I could learn about the industry and have a music career at the same time, but I decided it might be smart to have a degree in something else, so I chose criminal justice.”

Sitting on his couch with a Taylor guitar in hand, Leech’s eyes lighted up as he described his passion for music. “It’s where my heart is,” he said. “I wouldn’t be unsatisfied with a government career, but there’s definitely more money in the music industry, which we all like just a little bit.”

Leech has been playing since the age of 6. His dad, Eddie Leech, continuously exposed him to music. “When I was 6, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar to be more like my dad. When you grow up while your dad’s playing every day, it’s kind of easy to want to pick that up, so he taught me everything he could. I got my first guitar for Christmas. It was a red acoustic guitar. We still have it.”

Eddie Leech said his son is a determined musician. “He sticks with something until he gets it right,” he said. “When he was little, Jesse thought he was Keith Urban. He was a little hard headed and drifted from playing. I was proud to see him come back to it.”

Keith Urban also inspired Leech’s musical interests when he was younger. “When I was 9, I went to one of his concerts,” Leech said. “He signed the pick guard on my electric guitar and wrote, ‘To Jesse: Playing guitar is one of God’s greatest gifts! Rock on my man. Keith’.”

Leech’s mom, Pam Leech, said that Urban’s influence is evident in he son’s music. “The songs he writes are always from his heart,” she said. “He writes of the experiences he has gone through, soulful music.”

Leech began writing music in high school. “I took an instrumental music class where my teacher gave us an assignment to write a song,” Leech said. “It was actually easier than I thought it would be, which is probably why I never wrote before, because I figured it’d be too difficult. Now I have a collection of songs, as well as fragments, so if I ever need fillers, those are there.”

When writing, he focuses on his own personal experiences, as well as other experiences that people can generally relate to. “If I want to access a certain type of song, I can put myself in a past situation or base it off other people’s stories,” he said. “I play a lot of country music, but some of my work could be classified as singer/songwriter too.”

Leech has around 20 guitars. “I don’t really have a favorite,” he said. “It just depends on what I’m doing, because they all sound different when I’m playing.”

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE




Column: UM student reflects on her years at Ole Miss

For some, Ole Miss has been the college they grew up loving, wearing red and blue daily or attending football games with their parents.  For others, it was a campus full of Southern charm with beautiful landscaping and more traditional, family environment. For me, the university is a treasure full of memories, mistakes heartbreaks and learning.

When I was a senior in high school, I remember taking the dreaded SAT and ACT and writing numerous, what seemed like long, college application essays, as well as researching multiple financial aid avenues.  Being from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas, I didn’t grow up supporting one school and never really fell in love with any of the Texas universities.

My best friend of four years, Emma McPhail.

At 18, I had no idea where I wanted to attend college, but I knew I wanted it to be far enough away from home that I was able to gain independence and learn some lessons for myself.

In October of 2011, my mom suggested visiting Ole Miss. “You know, that school from the Blindside,” she said.  I figured why not, so the two of us visited campus for the Ole Miss vs. Alabama football game where we, through connections, sat on the 50 yard line, Row 3.

Talk about an overwhelming experience.  The Grove was lined with so many red and blue tents, thousands of people drinking, talking and laughing.  The stadium was packed, body to body, even after half-time when the Rebels were getting destroyed by the Crimson Tide.

I wore a red dress and tan wedges, fitting in with the dressed-up culture.  By the third quarter, my feet were blistered, my stomach was growling, and I was exhausted.  I looked at my mom and said, “Let’s go eat, go to bed and go home.  Ole Miss is not the school for me.”

Flash forward to February of 2012.  My brother, Marshall Henderson, who had just finished up his sophomore basketball season at South Plains Junior College and been named the National Junior College Player of the Year, signed to play his final two seasons of college ball with Ole Miss.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

At this point in my senior year, I had decided on attending Oklahoma State University where I would major in journalism.  With one phone call from Marshall, my whole world turned around.  “Come to Ole Miss with me, Paige. It won’t seem too far from home any more since you’ll have me there,” Marshall said.

With that one phone call, I instantly applied for Ole Miss, and within a couple of weeks, I had been accepted, set up my orientation dates and applied for housing.

My first two years at Ole Miss really revolved around basketball and Marshall. Not that it was a bad thing at all – I love basketball, and love my family more than anything.  In fact, my family attended a majority of his games, and the whole experience became a family affair.

My freshman year, I chose not to rush a sorority and, believe it or not, was really shy and reserved.  I didn’t even become friends with my roommate Emma, who is now my best friend, until after living with her for almost three months.

I spent most of my time going to class or hanging around at the basketball practice facility where I would volunteer and help Kara, the men’s basketball secretary, with whatever there was to be done – answering the phone if she was out of the office, sorting through papers, or just sitting on the couch in silence because I enjoyed the environment and her company.

Once the season rolled around, I was engulfed.  I attended all of the home games, including the game vs. Kentucky when I had been in bed for three days with the flu, where I sat front row with Emma and a couple of other girls we befriended.

Most of the people I met my freshman year were from attending basketball games or social media.  Once people found out I was Marshall’s sister, my followers increased, because let’s be real, I don’t post much of anything worth reading or sharing.

In fact, Missouri’s student section, the Antlers, felt it necessary to share my phone number with the world. Needless to say, I changed my number that same day and deleted all of my social media for a few months, but that’s a whole other story in itself.

The 2012-2013 basketball season ended with a loss against La Salle University in the second round of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. But the highlights were winning the SEC Championship, where Marshall was named tournament MVP, getting a bid to the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2002, and beating Wisconsin in the Round of 64 with a score of 57 to 46.

My sophomore year, the Rebels had a roller-coaster season, full of ups and downs.  Marshall’s senior game against Vanderbilt was one of the most joyous occasions I’ve ever been a part of.  If you know who my brother is, then you know the struggles he’s faced and the adversity he’s overcome.

Watching people line up for pictures with him after his last game in the Tad Pad was incredible. I’ve grown up watching him play ball for as long as I can remember. He inspired so many kids, made the game fun for fans, and let his passion for the game run through his veins.

He taught me how to have faith in God and in yourself, that you truly can accomplish anything regardless of what everyone else says.  There are so many moments I vividly remember from his time at Ole Miss, but that last home game is one that the emotions will stick with forever.

His final game for the university was in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. It was a heartbreaking loss that left my family full of tears, heads down in the stands.  Regardless of what everyone else believed, I knew that wouldn’t be Marshall’s last game to play, but I knew that was the last memory I’d get to share with him during our time together at Ole Miss.

Marshall hugged me after every win, but this was our final hug in the Tad Pad after his senior night.

My junior year, I was 21 years old, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and now trying to establish my own reputation with Marshall gone. I spent most of this year attending sporting events and enjoying life with my closest friends.

Some people hate social media and think it does more harm than help, but it helped me build my own circle and develop as an individual. Twitter is where I met numerous people who have become a huge part of my life, from families for whom I babysit, to photographers and other journalists, to friends and even ex-boyfriends.

It’s where I was able to, in a sense, network and get some published, written work under my belt.  Evie Van Pelt, a.k.a. @OleMissEvie, allowed me to write articles for The Rebel Walk, as well as work in the press box at L.P. Field for the Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt football game, where I ran The Rebel Walk Twitter account.

She let me come up with my own topics, giving me direction throughout the process, and allowed me to develop as a writer.  I’m extremely thankful for her and the amount of faith she put into me and my work.

Now, four years later from 2012, here I am writing about my experience in Oxford and as an Ole Miss student. I’d go into detail about my senior year, but the easy way to sum it up is to say that I’ve seen so many things come full circle.

If you remember before, my first Ole Miss football game ever was an absolute annihilation by Alabama, but I’ve now witnessed the Rebels take down the Crimson Tide two years in a row.  I rushed the field the first time and sat on the sixth row at Bryant-Denny Stadium this past fall.

Also if you remember, I said I originally wanted to go to Oklahoma State.  Well this past January, Marshall surprised me with front row tickets to the Sugar Bowl where we watched the Rebels take down the OK State Cowboys in a 48 to 20 victory.

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, had many stressed-out meltdowns because I procrastinated or just decided not to try on an assignment, made a couple of bad grades and had some heartbreaks from relationships that just weren’t meant to be.

I’ve lost some friends and hurt some people along the way, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons and found that you have to be happy with yourself before you can try to be happy with someone else.

I’ve met people that will be a part of my life for years to come and made memories that I’ll never forget. I’ve found a home away from home here in Oxford.

Through tears, smiles and laughter, I’ve survived what seemed at times like a long four years, and I wouldn’t change any bit of it.  When I had ruled Ole Miss out, God re-opened the door, knowing this is where he wanted me, and I’m thankful that I listened when he called because this has been one for the books.


Pinebox band gaining popularity in Oxford and area

While many students are attending baseball games, grabbing a drink on the Square, or studying at the library, four Mississippi and Tennessee natives are living out their passion for music.

Pinebox is a local, student band that formed in January. Even with the recent start, the band has gained a lot of exposure. They have played five shows and currently record at Rebel Music with Travis Wilburn, a sound engineer with degrees in both business and music.

Band member Marcus Umfress, 21, said the group has been writing music since last November, but didn’t meet to play until January.

Pinebox members include Umfress, senior Jon Michael Walton, sophomore Pace Ward and junior Caleb Rushton. “We all sing, but Caleb is the lead singer,” said Umfress. “I sing a couple of songs with him.”

Anger, pain, happiness and nostalgia are all feelings conveyed through Pinebox’s loud rock, alternative sound. Original lyrics, intense guitar strumming, and passionate band members have only just tapped into their talent. Umfress said none had been in an alternative music band before, so they figured they could do it.

Umfress fell in love with music at age 7. He used to dress up as a cowboy with a toy guitar and sing George Straight songs, but his love for rock came from listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the classic rock his dad played.

Band practice

Christmas lights are strung around the walls, a single rug lays on the tile floor with a drum set on top of it, and two mattresses lean against the wall to suppress sound. This was the original practice area inside Umfress’ three-bedroom home.

“The recording of the demos with a rock band mic in the bath tub is pretty great,” said Umfress’ roommate Zack Hamm. The band started recording everything with a rock band mic nailed to the wall. After a noise complaint to the police department, Pinebox was forced to find another location to rehearse.

The studio at Rebel Music, although similar to a bedroom space, is full of gadgets and a desk full of buttons to help improve the band’s sound. Travis Wilburn is their right hand tech man who makes sure they produce professional music.

“He disciplines us,” band member Jon Michael Walton said. “Even the scratch stuff we have done has come off better than some professional bands that get paid.”

After only being a band for four months, they are about to hit their 10th song. “Travis notices and pushes us, so it really helps in our live shows,” Walton said. “When you rep, you just repeat and repeat and repeat the same parts of a song. That’s muscle memory, so it helps in a show.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 1.36.38 PM
Pinebox’s demo is available online.

Their demo can be found online at pineboxms.bandcamp.com. “Right now, our demo is online, and we’re just taking it as it goes,” said Umfress. “People have to like your music to want your stuff, so I guess it just depends on our success. Some groups take three to four years to get off the ground, but some can write for six months and become an instant success locally or regionally.”

With the uncertainty of instant success, the band started out essentially working for free, with hopes to sell their album and T-shirts. Umfress said they were “broke as (expletive),” but hoping their connections would help things take off.

The other band members have connections through Delta Psi fraternity, Bouré, Square Books and other bands throughout northern Mississippi.

Umfress said Pinebox has been making shirts to give to fans, and they have made money on past gigs. At Shelter, a venue with an ambient setting, Pinebox was paid $110 to play.

“The environment was chill, and it showed us how to play somewhere we didn’t necessarily like the setting,” Umfress said. “The money also meant we didn’t have to pay for gas to go to Birmingham for another gig.”

Gaining popularity

From starting out playing an acoustic set for 40 people on a back porch in Taylor, Mississippi, the band moved from the hipster vibe to playing for 70 to 80 people lined up, moshing and slinging beer.

“People were jumping all over the place,” Umfress said. “We got an amazing response and some of the biggest critics that we know, didn’t give us any criticism.”

The positive support has led to an influx of invites for the band. “We may actually have to turn down some shows,” Umfress said. “We’ll end up with some type of record deal off of all this, even though we don’t really know how it all works. We’re excited.”

The band looks forward to their future together, hoping to get a record label and continue playing shows.  Photo by Walter Lyle.

Pinebox is scheduled to play in two upcoming shows on May 14 and 17. These shows will charge covers due to alcohol sales. May 14 is Brofest. “A bunch of local bands around the Southeast have put together this annual show,” Walton said. “Last year, over 200 people from four different states were there, and we get to play with national touring acts.”

May 17 is a house show in Oxford with six bands, four that are touring, and Pinebox is the opener. “It’s going to be a banger,” Walton said.

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE

The Fame Game: Running in the Limelight

Some University of Mississippi athletes are heralded nationwide for their gifts, while others who give just as much to the game often fail to receive recognition. In this series, we take a look at some of the lesser known UM athletes who are driven to achieve excellence in their respective sports.

Butterflies. Sweaty, standing next to everyone like a herd of cattle. Adrenaline pumping. As soon as the gun goes off, it’s a fight until the finish. Senior Ryan Walling has experienced this more than once as a distance runner for the Ole Miss Men’s Track and Field Team.

Walling is a graduate student with senior eligibility for athletics. He attended the University of North Carolina prior to Ole Miss. Aside from receiving All-ACC and All-Region honors at UNC, he has received a number of honors during his 2016 season at UM. Walling was named All-American at Nationals and the SEC Indoor Championships, won the 3000m and 5000m at the SEC Indoor Championships, which earned him First Team All-SEC, and he won the Cliff Harper Trophy, which is given to the person who scores the most points at the SEC Indoor meet.

Although he has been successful in his events, the 3000m, the 5000m, and the 10000m, Walling has not always had a passion for running. “Growing up, I feel like I played every kind of sport,” Walling said. “I tried everything at least once. I actually wanted to play football in high school going into my freshman year, but our football team only had one win every season. My mom had me go out for the cross country team and I was good at it, so I kept it going from there.”

Ryan Manahan, Walling’s roommate and teammate, thinks very highly of Walling as an athlete. “Walling, on the track, is an animal,” he said. “His personal records speak for themselves. He loves competition, but he’s not afraid to enjoy simpler things in life, which is one of the many reasons he’s so successful.”

Ryan Manahan, Walling’s roommate and teammate, won the bronze in the mile. Photo taken by @OleMissTrack

Walling works out every day, and most days twice a day. Manahan said. “He (Walling) leads by example, showing up and giving 110 percent every day.”

The track team’s workouts involve lifting weights, a long run of roughly 18 miles, and faster workouts. The dedication helps push Walling at meets. “When I’m preparing for a race, I try to keep as calm as possible,” he said. “I talk to my coach and teammates as a way to remind myself that I’ve done everything I should’ve done leading up to the race, that I’m ready, and then it’s usually pretty easy after that.”

The butterflies he gets before the start of a race all disappear once the gun goes off, and certainly are gone once he crosses the finish line. “When I finish a race, I can have a ton of different emotions,” Walling said. “The first one is relief. Then your instinct is to look at the clock. Depending what the time says decides how the rest of your day is going to go, whether it’s good or bad.”

Outside of track and field, Walling is a graduate student studying recreation administration. Between practice and class, he feels school can be a distraction sometimes. “I never hate going to practice and working out,” he said. “It’s the in-between school stuff that gets tough because I’d rather keep practicing or hang out in the training room.”

ESPN getting the scoop on Walling after winning the 3000 and 5000m. Photo taken by @OleMissTrack

When he’s not in class or running, he tries to take his mind off of running in other ways. “Ryan Manahan and I try to set up different stuff to do,” Walling said. “We try to keep it relaxed outside of running because running’s not fun.”

Walling’s favorite memory from running in college is from the 2016 SEC Indoor Championships, where he won the 3000m. “I looked up at the big screen with about 100 meters to go, and my teammates and I were 1, 2, and 3. To finish with two teammates behind me was pretty awesome, doesn’t happen very often.”

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE

McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea has Oxford roots

From the large green letters above the striped awning, to the checkered tile inside, McAlister’s Deli reaps tradition and a past that may be unknown to many. Oxford is full of hidden gems, and located past the Square on University Avenue is the original McAlister’s restaurant of the near 350 in existence today.

Originally a gas station, McAlister’s was not founded until 1989. Retired dentist, Dr. Don Newcomb, purchased the property after it had been converted into a 50s diner to film the movie “Heart of Dixie.”

The store still has a lot of originality. The far, sidewalls are garage doors, and the whole front of the restaurant is lined with large windows. The walls are decorated with memorabilia and images of the original store, historic Ole Miss photos, as well as informative pictures about McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea and other Southern props reflecting their menu.

Newcomb originally named the restaurant Chequers, but found it to be too similar to the fast-food chain restaurant Checkers. He renamed the store McAlister’s, a name honoring his wife’s parents.

Along with its interesting origin, McAlister’s menu attracts customers of all ages. “McAlister’s is unique because of our menu options that are not fried, and (it) has a lot of diversity, our sweet tea, and our genuine hospitality,” said General Manager Austin Mitchell.

Their Famous Sweet Tea is made fresh daily and poured out at the end of every shift.  Every year, McAlister’s has Free Tea Day. Customers can come in for a free tea without even purchasing a menu item.

One woman enjoys her sweet tea so much, she stops for it daily. “She comes in the mornings before we are open to get a cup,” said Mitchell. “We usually aren’t ready, but she waits patiently, and then stops back by again to get it refilled.”

Part-time employee Forrest Crumby said that, aside from the sweet tea, McAlister’s is well known for their Texas size spuds. “Everyone talks about the spuds and how big they are,” said Crumby. “In reality, they are only two small potatoes put together.” The spuds are made fresh daily and are thrown out every 30 minutes if they are not used.

Aside from their regular menu, including soups, spuds, salads and sandwiches, McAlister’s has somewhat of a secret menu. “Any time something is taken off the menu that isn’t a premium item, like shrimp or something, we can most likely make it,” said Crumby. “A customer can still order something that is no longer on the menu.”

The menu consists of spuds, salads, soups and sandwiches.

The Oxford location is a corporate store with more of a college environment. Its hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday and Sundays, as well as 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We’re busy year round,” said Crumby. “Sunday mornings are probably busiest though due to church and tourists grabbing a quick, causal bite before leaving town from the weekend games.”

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE

Phillips Grocery is still a favorite among college students

From the moment one enters Phillips Grocery on South Lamar, the aroma of Southern fried food fills the room. Listen carefully, and you can hear the oil pop as the regular and sweet potato fries sizzle.

Phillips Grocery is known for its Mushroom and Swiss burger – a greasy, savory meal cooked to perfection with sautéed mushrooms and a large piece of melted Swiss cheese. Most pair it with crispy sweet potato fries and a large glass of their super sweet tea.

They are also known for their catfish. The crispy breading makes for a warm treat, especially when paired with hush puppies.

Ole Miss senior political science major Josh Johnson enjoys eating at Phillips Grocery. “I don’t get to eat there as much as I would like to,” said Johnson. “I love the environment. Every time I’ve been, there is a decent amount of customers, but the rustic feel is peaceful. Plus I love sitting on the front porch when it’s warm outside.”

The restaurant has a classic look with wood floors and walls covered in Mississippi collectibles. The tables and chairs look like those you’d find in a diner. They also have a television in the corner so customers can watch the latest happenings or games on the SEC Network.

The outside of the restaurant looks like an old house or wooden convenience store. The front porch is lined with picnic tables with green and white-checkered tablecloths. The front door to the restaurant, as well as the windows, has old tin signs with Southern sayings, as well as a big lighted “Open” sign.

Inside, the menu is written on a white board above the cash register. There is a soda machine, sweet tea pitchers and a create-your-own ice cream cone machine.

There’s also an old gumball machine waiting for the next kid with 25 cents. The walls are covered in Ole Miss posters, trinkets and other memorabilia. There are rows of license plates across the ceiling beams. The wooden tables are covered with navy tablecloths, accompanied with black chairs.

As listed on Phillips Grocery’s Facebook page, the original building was constructed in Holly Springs and operated in 1892 by Oliver Quiggins, a former Confederate soldier and prisoner of war of the Union Army. It was first operated as a saloon during prohibition and later became a grocery store. Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Phillips bought the store in 1948, and eventually one opened in Oxford.

Phillips was recently named No. 1 restaurant in Oxford by Channel 5’s Andy Wise, No. 1 burger in Oxford by The Oxford EAGLE and was named among the top five burgers in the state by Mississippi Magazine.

image4 copy

Employees follow the restaurant’s mission statement, “to pride themselves on offering quality food along with quality service.”

Ole Miss freshman and Olive Branch native Eli Martin said Phillips has one of the best burgers he’s ever eaten. “They consistently make them good, and the taste is savory. Talking about it makes me want to go eat there.”

They are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. On Mondays, they are only open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and they are closed on Sundays.

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE


UM student is aspiring makeup artist

Emma McPhail, 22, is a psychology major at the University of Mississippi from Rockwall, Texas. She chose to attend school in Mississippi because it was far enough away from home, but not too far that her family couldn’t come visit. It seemed like a fresh start, and after graduation this May, McPhail hopes to move to a big city.

“I’m not really set on finding a job in any particular field,” said McPhail. “I’ve looked at everything from counseling jobs to public relations and marketing. I just want to be successful at whatever I do.”

Aside from class work, McPhail loves makeup, whether it is buying it, watching YouTube videos about it or looking at Pinterest for different ideas.

“I think doing makeup is creative and a different art form. It makes me and other people feel good to put it on and see how it can transform you or make someone light up.”

McPhail feels that, in today’s world, there is a lot of emphasis put on physical appearance, especially for females.

“I think makeup essentially turns people into who they want to be or . . . look like,” said McPhail. “I think it gives some people confidence, even though beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

McPhail hopes to become a professional makeup artist one day. She mainly does it for fun and for her friends now.

Senior education major Jane Skalkos-Baldyga, 21, said McPhail did her makeup for formal a couple of years ago. “Emma did a really good job at keeping my look natural,” said Skalkos-Baldyga. “She used different techniques to make my eyes pop.”

Senior criminal justice major Nicole Rowe, 21, said McPhail has applied her makeup before going out. “I always ask her for tips if I’m looking to buy new products,” she said. “She has a good sense of what type of makeup I need for my skin, as well as what products are worth spending my money on.”

McPhail hopes to keep up this hobby even if other people don’t seek her help. “I don’t think I’m necessarily that good at it,” said McPhail. “My friends and family members are the ones who say that I have a talent for it. I just see it as a fun hobby, but hey, who wouldn’t want to make their hobby a profession if possible?”

Paige Henderson
The Oxford EAGLE