That didn't keep her from shedding tears of joy April 16 when she found out he was one of 1,000 students in the nation to be selected as a 2009 Gates Millennium Scholar.
"I said, 'Who is more deserving than him,' " she said. "He has worked hard and has always done what was asked of him in school and at home."
After opening the UPS package announcing the selection, she went to John S. Davidson Fine Arts School, where Mr. Zellars is a senior, to let him know.
"I was in the school's library when I was called to the office. When I got there, I saw her crying. I didn't know what was going on so I was freaking out. I was like, 'Who got hurt and why are you crying?' " he said. "As soon as she showed me what was in the box, I couldn't believe it. It was incredible."
The scholarship, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provides money for minority students to attend any accredited college or university of their choice.
Students who pursue graduate studies in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science might have their studies funded through the master's and doctoral levels.
More than 20,000 students had applied.
Mr. Zellars, 18, has a 3.6 grade-point average. He plans to attend the University of Georgia in the fall with the intention of going into premedicine and majoring in biochemistry or international affairs, he said.
He wants to become a neurosurgeon.
"I'm not the perfect student, but she has stayed on me," he said of his mother. "My freshman and sophomore years, I was cool with getting B's. After my sophomore year, though, I knew that medical students and premed students aren't going for B's. They are going for A's.
"So I knew then what I had to do. I had to study harder and push myself."
Mr. Zellars has been involved in activities in the community that influenced his field choice and his desire to give back.
He is a co-president of the Augusta Red Cross Youth Board; has volunteered at Golden Harvest Food Bank and Gracewood State Hospital; and has participated in a youth leadership program organized by Steven Kendrick.
"Before I joined the (Red Cross board), I wanted to become an architect," he said. "By working with the board, I learned that I enjoy helping people. I love the idea of doing good just to do good. I believe that the life you live is not your own."
The scholarship will help Mr. Zellars achieve his goals, his mother said.
"We've never worried about whether or not he was going to go to college. We always knew he was," she said. "But this scholarship is a relief because I know what he wants to do and I know it's going to take him a long time in school for it.
"It's a blessing to know it's all taken care of."
To obtain more information about the Gates Millennium Scholar Program, log on to www.gmsp.org.
Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.